Dysfunctional Conflict

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What is dysfunctional conflict?

Dysfunctional conflict is a type of conflict that damages employee relations and hinders organizational progress. It can involve behavior such as aggression, hostility, or lack of respect toward others. Dysfunctional conflicts typically involve only one issue rather than multiple points of contention, and they can quickly become heated or personal.

Conflict is a natural occurrence in any workplace. It can arise between individuals, groups, or teams. When it is functional, conflict can lead to better outcomes for the organization. However, when conflict becomes dysfunctional, it can have negative consequences for employee productivity and organizational goals.

Dysfunctional conflict characteristics

Some characteristics of dysfunctional conflict include:

  • Intense emotions
  • Rigid positions
  • Uncooperative behavior
  • Widespread effects on employee relationships
  • Lack of progress toward organizational goals
  • Poor communication between employee and management
  • Interventions that increase employee animosity
Characteristics of Dysfunctional Conflict

Examples of dysfunctional conflict

Dysfunctional conflict can take on many forms. Here are some examples of dysfunctional conflict in the workplace:

  • Employees who refuse to work together on a project, even when asked by management.
  • Employees who engage in gossip or rumors about their coworkers.
  • Employees who take credit for someone else's work and do not recognize their contribution.
  • Employees who create a hostile environment for their coworkers in order to get ahead.
  • Employees who withhold information or resources from each other.
  • Employees who are unwilling to compromise or negotiate.
  • Employees who openly argue with each other in front of other staff members.
  • Management or employee behavior that undermines organizational goals.
  • Use of personal attacks, threats, or insults as a means of communication.

How to identify dysfunctional conflict

It can be difficult to identify dysfunctional conflict, as it is often hidden beneath a mask of civility. However, some signs may indicate when dysfunctional conflict has become an issue in the workplace. These include:

  • Regular employee absenteeism, especially if it increases after a particular incident or situation.
  • Increase in employee turnover, either from voluntary resignations or terminations due to misconduct.
  • Decreased employee loyalty and commitment.
  • Poor employee morale, as evidenced by lack of motivation or engagement with work tasks.
  • Decline in employee productivity or efficiency.
  • Increase in negative behavior such as gossip, backstabbing, or disrespect for authority figures.

Consequences of dysfunctional conflict

Conflict at work reportedly causes stress, anxiety, and/or depression in 56% of employees who encountered it, while 40% claim to be less motivated. 

When dysfunctional conflict goes unresolved, it can have serious consequences on employee morale, productivity, and organizational goals. These consequences include:

  • Decrease in employee motivation and engagement with work tasks.
  • Loss of employee trust in management or colleagues.
  • Negative effects on employee mental and physical health due to increased stress levels.
  • Decrease in employee retention, which can lead to costly recruiting and training expenses.
  • Increase in employee absenteeism due to dissatisfaction or lack of motivation.
  • Inability to reach organizational goals due to decreased employee efficiency and teamwork.

The difference between functional conflict and dysfunctional conflict

Functional conflict is a type of conflict that promotes employee engagement and productivity. It typically involves two or more parties working together to reach an agreement and encourages open communication between them. 

On the other hand, dysfunctional conflict wastes time, energy, and resources and can lead to poor employee morale and a decrease in productivity

How to resolve dysfunctional conflicts

Resolving dysfunctional conflicts is essential for maintaining employee morale, productivity, and organizational goals. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Set clear guidelines and expectations for employee behavior.
  • Encourage employees to communicate their concerns in a constructive manner.
  • Create an environment of trust and respect, where employee opinions are considered and valued.
  • Facilitate mediation or negotiation sessions with all involved parties.
  • Establish problem-solving techniques that can be used to resolve conflicts.
  • Encourage employee collaboration in order to foster a sense of teamwork and responsibility.
  • Implement employee recognition programs to reward good behavior and discourage negative behavior.
  • Provide employee training on effective communication techniques and conflict resolution strategies.

Key takeaway for HR

HR skills and communication strategies can be key in resolving conflicts before they become dysfunctional. With the right tools, employee conflicts can be managed more effectively, and employees will feel their voices are heard and appreciated. 

By recognizing and addressing dysfunctional conflict, organizations can create a healthier workplace environment that fosters employee engagement and productivity. 

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