One of the hardest things about being in the workplace is managing the many relationships necessary to effectively do your job. Any time you take people of varying origins, beliefs and personalities and put them in a room together for 40 hours a week, it is expected that conflicts will occasionally arise. The great majority of conflicts in the workplace arise because of personal concerns and can usually be addressed with a polite conversation.
Substantive conflict occurs when two or more people do not agree on ideas, procedures or pretty much any other issue. Substantive conflict can be managed and in the long run might benefit your business, as having open discussions about important issues can lead to new ideas. This conflict is based entirely on real issues and should not include personal problems or vendettas.
A personalized conflict is fueled primarily by emotions. Anger, jealousy and any other number of human responses can cause this type of conflict, and indulging in it is rarely productive for you or your workforce. Personalized conflict is dangerous in that it often escalates rather than fades away, and it must be addressed early or the problems might fester before erupting again.
If a manager and employee are arguing about changing operating hours to better serve customers, this is a substantive argument. There is a disagreement about policy, but both parties can work together to reach a reasonable agreement that might be better than either of their original ideas.
If an employee thinks that a manager is “out to get him,” this is an example of a dangerous personalized conflict that will likely escalate anytime the employee is evaluated or critiqued by the manager, regardless of the situation's reality.
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