How to Resolve a Workplace Conflict: A Guide for HR Professionals

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Years ago, CPP’s report opened HR managers’ eyes like a curtain being drawn. It uncovered the staggering truth about workplace conflicts: 85% of employees constantly deal with disputes at job sites, and 29% do it “always” or “frequently.”

So, let’s confront the “elephant in the room.” Disagreements are inescapable in employee relations at work, and, as an HR professional, you should know how to cope with them. They aren’t pleasant, yet they are manageable.

We have compiled an HR guide to workplace conflict resolution to prepare you thoroughly.

Shall we begin with the essentials, then?

The Anatomy of Workplace Conflicts Every HR Manager Should Know

Let’s figure out what lies at the heart of any conflict in the workplace and explore its types.

What Is a Workplace Conflict?

A workplace conflict is a strong opposition between two or more employees who work within one organization and disagree on a specific matter. Its root cause is majorly tangled in a discrepancy of opinions about a particular goal, task, procedure, behavior, interest, etc.

No company is immune to conflicts; likewise, no worker is, whether the frontline employee or the chief executive officer.

For instance, the misbehaving CEOs of such brands as UniDAYS, NBCUniversal, CBS, and many others were involved in workplace conflicts due to sexual harassment on their behalf.

The above example is a relationship conflict at work. Discover this and more types in the next section.

Types and Examples of Conflicts at the Workplace

Let’s first zoom in on workplace conflicts by leading causes or subjects.

Relationship conflict

Relationship conflicts occur between workers based on clashing personal (hobbies, likes/dislikes) or professional (recognition, career advancement) interests, values, or beliefs, which influence employees’ judgments and behaviors in the workplace.

Here are several examples.

Example: conflict of values

Two workers don’t share a common societal value, namely, sustainability (it may also be on the list of company values). One is a passionate environmentalist leading a “greener” lifestyle with eco-conscious habits. Another is a “greenwasher” aiming to release false information about the product being environmentally friendly when it is actually not. That’s when an argument arises.

Two employees talking


Example: conflict of beliefs (personal, cultural, religious, etc.)

One employee sticks to astrological beliefs and explains demotivation and low performance with horoscopes and career astrology charts. The manager strongly rejects such a belief system and accuses the worker of laziness. Eventually, they start quarreling about it and end up in a workplace conflict.

Status conflict

Hierarchical relationships and inequalities in perceived authority or power are the driving forces of status conflicts. According to the research, 47% of all disputes are in some way related to people’s statuses.

Let’s look at the example of a status conflict in the healthcare industry:

The senior surgeon with years of expertise insists on an aggressive treatment plan with immediate surgery based on similar cases. However, the surgical intern suggests conducting an additional test to ensure the patient’s safety. The discussion escalates as the doctor feels his authority and experience should be the determining factors. At the same time, the intern believes a patient-centric approach should be equally considered.

Project conflict

The “seeds” of project conflicts are misalignments of directions, tasks, and processes in projects.

Picture this. The key decision-makers in the marketing team have different visions for the campaign. One employee believes the company should entirely rely on traditional advertising techniques, like TV and printed ads. Another wants to go digital-first with social media influencers. This leads to a verbal “tug-of-war.”


Besides, HR professionals must be aware of confrontations differing by scope and participants and know how to handle workplace conflicts like these:

  • Executive conflict (when senior leaders are involved)
  • Employee-manager conflict (between managers and their subordinates)
  • Employee-employee conflict (between same-level colleagues)
  • Employee-team conflict (when one worker stands in opposition to the whole team)
  • Team-team conflict (between teams)

Look at the possible root cause of an employee-team conflict:

The team of attorneys has a budget allocated for professional development. Practically everyone wants to use it for courses on social media investigations. Only one team member insists on learning Latin instead to understand and use the legal terms derived from it. This results in a tense atmosphere and constant arguing between the team and the employee.

HR’s Role in Workplace Conflict Resolution

An HR professional is a mediator of workplace conflicts, an intermediary who always maintains neutrality.
When handling workplace conflicts, the foundational practices implemented by HR managers are as follows:
Approach it quickly and without delay to avoid escalation.
Remain unbiased during the resolution process.
Keep thorough notes of everything (these may be necessary for law enforcement inquiries or legal writs).
Check back with those involved and collect feedback.

5 HR Strategies for Resolving a Workplace Conflict

Learn the top five proven methods for HR to untangle any knot of disagreement on the job site.

Apply 4 Rs of conflict management: Recognize, Respond, Resolve, and Reflect

Let’s walk through every step.


As an HR professional, you should spot the signs of a “storm” before it becomes a “hurricane.”

Suppose you notice high tension in communication between the finance department leader and the team. Their debates in meetings heat up like a boiling cauldron, whereas their productivity levels steadily drop. When asked, employees confess they feel unappreciated and want the manager to notice and value their ideas.


This stage is often determinative because the success of conflict resolution in the workplace depends on how quickly you can act and nip it in the bud. Therefore, you must react as soon as possible and organize a private meeting with both parties.


During the meeting, all participants should express their diverse perspectives.

If employees indeed lack appreciation, you may offer different types of recognition as a possible solution to be incorporated by the manager in the work process:


After a few weeks, gather feedback and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. For example, at this point, you may also see the necessity to develop a continuous recognition plan in the workplace.

Use HR tools to help you out 

Here are several essential tools for HR departments to manage workplace conflicts more effectively:

  • Communication tools: Pumble, Slack, Connecteam
  • Anonymous reporting apps: FaceUp, Employee Confidential, Your Voice by HiBob
  • Employee relations management software: HRAcuity, empower®, BambooHR
  • Documentation systems for record keeping: PandaDoc, GoCo
  • Feedback mechanisms: Recognize Surveys, Simple Poll, OfficeVibe

“When selecting the right tools,” Phil Strazzulla, Founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, advises HR leaders to “Prioritize those that integrate smoothly with other HR software, like task automation or payroll systems. By doing so, you will have all HR workflows on one page and resolve conflicts in the workplace more rapidly with a panoramic view of what’s happening.”

For instance, Recognize, BambooHR, and Simple Poll are among the best HR tools integrated into Slack.

An employee on Slack


Let employees talk it out and be all ears

When arranging a meeting to resolve a workplace conflict, you should set the scene for calm discussion and encourage employees to speak up in turn. (Your role is to mediate the interaction, remember?) Open and constructive dialogue always serves as the cement for healthy relationships in the workplace.

But before that, you must establish the ground rules, such as mutual respect, no interruptions, and no ad hominem attacks at each other.

Note: Mediation is not mindless switching between speakers. “Passive listening and drifting from one conflict participant to another can nullify your workplace conflict resolution efforts,” remarks Morgan Taylor, Co-Founder of Jolly SEO. “Instead, you should adhere to the active listening method backed up by the fellow feeling,” he recommends.

Office staff


Morgan Taylor shares a list of active listening tactics for HRs dealing with a workplace conflict:

  • Mirroring and body language matching → subtly mirror employees’ emotions and non-verbal cues to demonstrate empathy and create a sense of connection.
  • Empathic statements I fully understand why you feel the way you do; I know this can be confusing/frustrating/…
  • Supportive phrasesGo on; I see.
  • Note-taking → Jot down critical points.
  • Summarizing → Sum up the situation to achieve absolute clarity and dispel any remaining fog of misunderstanding.

Collaborate with a workplace psychologist or psychotherapist

Some intra-office or remote confrontations between employees may be harsher than others and can become a nightmare for every party. You may sometimes need to handle difficult employees at the height of their rampage or very sensitive workers who get easily stressed out in tense situations.

Thomas Medlin, Co-Founder at JumpMD, recommends seeking help from a mental health specialist in resolving tough workplace conflicts that go out of control and impact employees’ well-being. “Don’t hesitate to reach out to psychologists/psychotherapists. They can offer emotional support to employees and develop coping strategies to help them fight stress provoked by the conflict at the workplace.”

You may already have an on-site psychotherapist in your employee wellness program, providing mental health counseling whenever needed. If not, consider hiring one for continuous employee assistance, not only amid workplace conflicts.

Learn the lesson and create employees’ conflict profiles

This strategy will help you learn from mistakes and mitigate workplace conflicts in the future.

Jerry Han, CMO at PrizeRebel, explains how to approach it. He mentions, “A crucial step for HR professionals after resolving a workplace conflict is to draw lessons from it by thorough analysis and employee profiling. Employee’s conflict profile may include conflict triggers, communication styles, and resolution skills.”

Let’s look at two conflict profiles created for employees in the sales team.

Profile Example #1

Employee Name: Jane

  • Background: Sales representative with five years of experience.
  • Conflict triggers: Reacts aggressively to micromanagement or advice perceived as unwanted, frequently gets into emotionally charged political debates with coworkers.
  • Communication style: An assertive communicator who prefers boldness and transparency in communications.
  • Conflict resolution skills: Effective problem solver but tends to dominate discussions.


Profile Example #2

Employee Name: John

  • Background: Sales rep with three years of experience.
  • Conflict triggers: Feels overwhelmed in high-pressure situations or tight deadlines.
  • Communication style: Introverted, steers away from disputes.
  • Conflict resolution skills: A conflict-avoidant personality who escapes confrontations at all costs.


Ready to Handle Workplace Conflicts?

This guide will help you, as an HR leader, effectively manage workplace conflicts and promote a harmonious and productive work environment.

Using tools like Recognize plays a pivotal role in it. Employee Surveys by Recognize can help you catch potential conflicts in the workplace before they snowball into disasters. Moreover, the app offers an effortless way to acknowledge and reward workers and build a culture of appreciation.

Stay tuned to the heartbeat of your employees’ joys, concerns, and milestones with Recognize App.

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