Many of these causes of conflict are interrelated. 

At the end of the descriptors, there’s a coaching tool to use on yourself, with your team or implement across the workplace to address relationship breakdowns, tension or conflict.


Change can be a catalyst for conflict for many reasons. Look out for these.

  • Scarcity mindset; people with this mindset tend to work on the premise that if ‘you are to gain something, then I am to lose something’. We see this surface regularly during change, and it can be a common societal problem.
  • Comparative loss; people fear the impact of change and its comparative loss, which is when we compare our loss (perceived and not always based in reality) with those around us.
  • Uncertainty and fear; uncertainty breeds fear, which breeds unhealthy emotions. People don’t regulate well and may be quicker to anger and not manage their communication as effectively as usual.



The most obvious cause of conflict here can be career ambition. We’ve all encountered that person who would throw their grandmother under a bus for career progression.

However, in today’s resource-lean work-overloaded teams, it’s more common to find people competing for a fair workload, different job tasks or opportunities and even time with the boss.



People communicate verbally, non-verbally and in written form. All three cause workplace conflict — as does the complete lack of communication. Passive-aggressive behaviours such as eye-rolling, head-shaking, and looking bored when someone is speaking can all create conflict. Emails sent without salutations or a perceived blunt message or directive are also significant triggers.



Have you ever noticed how a negative or moody staff member impacts the entire workplace? This very real effect is called emotional contagion.

A note on mood: It is not uncommon to see worn-down, disaffected staff carrying around a rather dire mood. Take the path of compassion and tap into what has led them to this point.

Yes, you must do something, and you will likely coach them to take one path or another; but lead with compassion and curiosity rather than judgment. Genuinely invest in helping them address the issue.


Different values, beliefs and attitudes

Working with people who hold vastly different values, beliefs and attitudes can be a bit of a melting pot.

There’s rarely an issue discussed at the family dinner table or social barbecue that doesn’t lead to some level of disagreement. Multi-generational families may experience this more acutely as the age gap widens. This is also reflected in the workplace, where a wide range of ages is represented. Entrenched views can cause conflict and challenges.

But while there will be people firmly gripping either end of the spectrum (see the model below), the majority are in what is sometimes referred to as the movable middle. They are open to others’ thinking and hearing different ideas and opinions.

The following strategies can help bridge the gaps without people needing to agree completely:

  • Make it safe for people to change their views. Our thinking can evolve, so share examples to enable people to do so without the fear of losing face.
  • Set behavioural expectations and cultural codes.
  • Get training on coaching people to unpack their values, beliefs and attitudes.
  • Set expectations about respectful and constructive discussions.
  • Teach people to approach discussions with a lens of curiosity, not judgment.
  • Adhere to anti-discrimination legislation and set clear boundaries for ensuring an environment free from discrimination.


Judgment and assumption of others

Have you ever made a judgment or assumption about a situation or a person that turned out to be completely wrong? It happens quite often in the workplace and can lead to conflict.

You may be familiar with the ladder of inference. Essentially it means that we make rash assumptions based on our perception of somebody — the way they look, their actions, their behaviours, and we mentally run up a ladder making all sorts of judgments about that individual.

Rather than based on fact, we’ve made all these inferences from what we see. Then we believe these stories we’ve made up and act accordingly — when the truth is likely completely different.


Taking Action

Embedding a culture code that is lived and breathed will help you hold people accountable for uncivil behaviours, poor moods and negativity. As leaders of change, help people (or yourself) find a more positive intent through emotions and hostility.

This quote from Joseph Joubert is a great guiding light. ‘The aim of argument, or discussion, should not be victory, but progress.’ Coach parties to find ways to make progress. Work with them and use the following reflective questions to get underneath the emotion of relationship conflicts.

Your goal is to help them understand the problem more practically and clarify what will happen if the conflict is not resolved.

  1. Who is involved?
  2. When does the conflict arise?
  3. How do you feel when it happens? What is being triggered?
  4. What do you believe is the ‘source’ of the conflict? (Refer to the common causes model in figure 9).
  5. What other factors are at play? (e.g., power imbalance, workload, work culture, own fears, insecurities)
  6. Considering the source of the conflict and other contributing factors, what are your options for progressing? Write down at least three constructive options, keeping in mind a win/ win outcome.
  7. On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to address or resolve this conflict?
  8. How will you feel when you achieve that?
  9. What can you do to maximise your chances of success?
  10. What are your options if you are unable to resolve this conflict? Explore all options, including those you perceive as positive and negative. You can regain a sense of control over the situation by seeing that there are always choices.


If you would like a more in depth look at common causes of workplace conflict, you can find it in Transforming Norm – Leading the Change to a Mentally Healthy Workplace; Chapter 7; Poor Workplace Relationships. Purchase your copy of Transforming Norm below.

Transforming Norm Book

Buy your hard copy today. Book $32.95 + $8.00 flat rate shipping in Australia (per book).

Audiobook available on Kindle

Transforming Norm: Leading the change to a mentally healthy workplace eBook: Kindle Store.

Tanya Heaney-Voogt

Director & Principal Consultant
MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner

Recent Blogs

The Risks of Fundamental Attribution Error in the Workplace

When we witness poor behaviours at work, we can make assumptions that it is the individual’s personality or disposition that caused the behaviour rather than take into consideration the situational factors. The situational factors include: The environment around us...

The Hidden Costs of Workplace Incivility

Ten years ago, incivility expert, Christine Porath, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “rudeness at work is rampant and it’s on the rise.” In her research which included polling thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, Porath stated 98% of...

Challenging Safely

Challenging Safely requires a positive intent and care in the delivery.   Challenger safety, the final and most complex stage in the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Framework by Timothy R. Clark,  always assumes a positive intent and care in the delivery. When...

Inclusion – Getting to the Heart of Safe and Effective Teams

According to the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA), ‘Inclusion occurs when a diversity of people feel valued and respected, have access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve their organisation.’ There’s a...

Commit No Nuisance

Do you have a list of organisational values that sit buried deep in the basement somewhere?  Or values that are talked about a lot but quite clearly not lived and no one is held accountable for the behaviours that sit under each of those (even if they are clearly...

The dual benefits of scanning for R.O.T. in your team

R.O.T.  is an acronym of tech origin that stands for redundant, obsolete, or trivial.   Timothy R Clark, social scientist, researcher, and author tells us it's important to look for R.O.T. as 'everything we do eventually becomes obsolete'.   Clark talks about this...

It didn’t take long for Julie to realise something was truly amiss

Julie's Story - A Case Study Julie was a senior manager attending her first management team meeting in her new workplace. Twenty other managers were in the room, plus the executive members and the chief executive officer (CEO). What surprised Julie the most was the...

The most expensive words in business…

Want to know what the eight most expensive words in business are?   They might surprise you. I suspect you've heard them often, perhaps you've even uttered them yourself. They are:   "But we have always done it this way."It's a phrase guaranteed to get my...

What systems do you have in place for mitigating psychosocial hazards?

Psychosocial hazards are the things in the design, application and management of work that contribute to work-related stress.    Work-related stress in itself is not necessarily a problem. But when the stress is severe, prolonged or unmanaged, you increase the...

From 0 – Me in 60 Seconds

What's your default change response? Do you move from 0 - Me in 60 seconds? You're not alone. As part of our threat detection response during any perceived threat our amygdala kicks in and spirals us into a reactive state, rather than a constructive state. Put simply,...