Conflict Culture & Diversity at Work

Conflict can result from workplace pressures such as a long hours culture and excessive workloads. In this environment workers often experience a great deal of stress, which can lead to unreasonable behaviours that would not normally occur.

Also, in our diverse workplaces people come from different cultural backgrounds, have different values and ways of communicating. Some people view conflict as a positive thing, others as something to be avoided. For some, harmonious relationships are the first priority others place more emphasis on task completion.

Where there are poor communication skills and a lack of understanding of these differences, even simple misunderstandings can escalate into long term conflicts. Because people selectively filter what is being said to fit with their own expectations, perceptions, values and norms, a resolution can be found until there is real clarity about the issues. There is also a right time and place for working through an issue and this needs to be considered before approaching the person you are in conflict with. There may also need to be cultural sensitivity here, as in some cultures it is considered inappropriate to disclose the underlying causes of conflict

A lot of the coaching that I do is about resolving long term conflict between people in the workplace and in their personal lives. I usually find that people are waiting, sometimes years, for the other person to change and the likelihood of this is negligible. Its helpful for people to gain insight into the role they are playing in the conflict, understand the outcome they are wanting and then develop the strategies to achieve this result. Resolving ongoing conflict takes time and skill and often the necessary objectivity or even willingness to work through the issue is not present, especially if there is an agenda by one of the parties to keep the conflict ongoing says Kerry Fallon Horgan, FAW Managing Partner.

Image of two people in conflict

Workplace conflict can escalate into bullying or harassment. Research has found that workplace stessors such as interpersonal and role conflict, together with leadership behaviors, are the key indicators of the prevalence of bullying at work.

If a workplace problem is ongoing it would be appropriate to seek intervention from a HR professional or a trusted manager, if these people have the appropriate conflict resolution skills. Many workplaces have an Employee Assistance Program which can provide free, confidential counseling to resolve the issues, and workplaces can provide training for staff in communication, conflict resolution skills, stress and diversity management, bullying and harassment prevention. If it is an issue of workplace bullying or harassment then these reports must be taken seriously and a trusted workplace grievance procedure which deals with reports of unacceptable behaviors in a confidential, fair and timely way needs to be available to employees. There are outside agencies such as State Anti-discrimination Boards that will provide free advice to workers.

Our Bullying & Harassment Prevention Workshop provides managers and staff with effective strategies to deal with bullying, harassment and interpersonal conflict at work. To minimise legal exposure, organisations are required to take all reasonable steps to prevent bullying and harassment. These steps include ongoing training to identify and manage these destructive workplace behaviors.