Types of Interpersonal Conflict at Work

We’ve written extensively about conflict in the workplace -- everything from what causes conflict to the conflict resolution process. We provide online leadership training to deal with conflict and resolve it while maintaining a positive work environment. Naturally, we wanted to include the different types of interpersonal conflict that you may see at work. Interpersonal conflict refers to any type of conflict involving two or more people. It’s also different from an intrapersonal conflict, which refers to an internal conflict with yourself.

While conflict is a natural part of our everyday lives, it doesn’t have to be something that you fear approaching in the workplace. Suppose your organization has an effective plan in place, along with practical leadership training that all can quickly adopt. In that case, conflict resolution can be a skill that each of your leaders has a deep understanding and confidence in. Our team of experts has helped multiple organizations to improve their employee engagement, employee retention, and worked to help employers strengthen their leaders and, therefore, the bond between leadership and team members at all levels.

What is interpersonal conflict?

What is Interpersonal Conflict?

As we stated above, interpersonal conflict is any form of conflict (and it can be emotional, physical, personal, or professional) between two or more people. Conflict is common in all facets of life, including at home, within your family, and in the workplace. Of course, it’s imperative to have the skills and knowledge to address and resolve conflict appropriately. But we’ll cover the most common types of interpersonal conflict and then share some examples for you to look out for.

Types of Interpersonal Conflict

It has been shared that there are six different types of interpersonal conflict

  1. Pseudoconflict is a conflict due to a perceptual difference between partners and is easily resolved, an example of which is badgering, light teasing, taunting, and mocking behavior.
  2. Fact conflict is a conflict due to a dispute over the truth or accuracy of a piece of information.
  3. Value conflict is a conflict due to disagreements about deep-seated moral beliefs.
  4. Policy conflict is a conflict that is due to a dispute over a plan or course of action.
  5. Ego conflict is a conflict that is due to both parties in a disagreement insisting on being the “winner” of the argument.
  6. Meta conflict is a conflict that is due to disagreements about the process of communication itself during an argument.

These are the different types of interpersonal conflict that you can expect in the workplace and all walks of life. 

Types of interpersonal conflict at work.

Interpersonal Conflict Examples

Interpersonal conflict can include any type of physical, emotional, professional, or personal type of conflict between individuals. We will specifically cover some examples of conflict you may see in your workplace so that both employers and leaders alike can know the signs to look out for. It’s critical that your leaders feel confident acknowledging and addressing conflict to improve your overall workplace culture, help keep employee engagement and retention levels high, and therefore keep productivity levels high. 

  1. One interpersonal conflict example would be a supervisor/manager vs. the employee in terms of a paycheck. The employee believes they deserve a raise, while the supervisor (and other coworkers) disagrees that their productivity levels warrant this pay increase. This would cause a conflict you may frequently see in the workplace.
  2. A group of employees who have been asked to work on a project together cannot agree on the best way to navigate their project. This leads to an argument between a handful of coworkers, where none of them are willing to concede or change their minds.
  3. An employee is promoted based on their performance and sales trends over recent months. Another employee feels that they deserve the promotion instead. The leadership team does not believe both employees are deserving and need to discuss this with the vocal employee.
  4. A group of coworkers, including several men and a handful of women, are working on a project together. The men have decided to work more closely with one another, and the women feel that their voices are not being heard, despite several attempts to talk to the group as a whole. One of the men tells another coworker in the group that they feel their ideas are better because the women just “aren’t as smart” when it comes to this line of work.
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These are just a handful, not an exhaustive list, of the many different interpersonal conflict examples that you may see in different workplaces. Of course, it’s not a secret that less conflict in the workplace would be ideal - however, that is not always something you can control. Every one of your team members is a unique individual with different beliefs and feelings, and that means that personalities aren’t always going to mesh perfectly. This is nothing to be concerned about! First, it’s essential to partner with your Human Resources team so that this is something to consider in the hiring process. Next, make sure that your organization is offering team-building and morale-boosting activities, maintaining an open-door policy, and allowing your employees to voice any feedback they have. These can certainly help foster an inclusive and positive environment and decrease the chance(s) of workplace conflict.

Handling Conflict in Your Workplace

If your organization could use assistance with conflict resolution, we're here to help! It’s never too late to implement leadership training on conflict resolution that allows your leaders to communicate effectively, connect with employees, and motivate their teams.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.