Close Menu

    May 23, 2023    |   Sabrina Bennett

What are the main causes of conflict?

Conflict management

Written by Justin M. Deonarine, I/O Psychologist 

Read time: 2 minutes  


When it comes to achieving success in the workplace, effective conflict management is crucial. However, it’s not always easy to navigate conflict and find resolutions that work for everyone involved. That’s why it’s important to understand when and how conflicts typically occur, and what strategies can help you address them in a positive and constructive way.


There are a few types of conflict that one can encounter in the workplace. Reasons for conflict range from task-focused (completing work or the approach towards a goal/task) to personality-based (differing perspectives on the same issue). One model from Harvard considers Tasks, Relationships and Values.

  1. Task-based conflicts involve challenges related to resources, policies and procedures, expectations at work, and the interpretation of facts.
  2. Relationship-based conflicts involve disagreements based on personality style. Given that workplaces house many different personalities, this is one of the more common forms of conflict within the workplace.
  3. Value-based conflicts are the result of differences in identities and values. These disputes are typically based on deeply held opinions or beliefs, such as politics, religion, ethics, and norms.

Identifying the reasons for conflict allows you to develop strategies to address it and prevent it from escalating. However, knowing when differences of opinion that are more likely to arise will help you prevent and manage conflict more effectively.


In our 2020 People Trends Report, we explored when conflict occurs most often.

  • Conflict occurs the most when flexibility or adaptation is needed. This is because these are higher stress situations. Examples of these scenarios include dealing with unexpected issues and implementing changes.
  • Conflict also occurs during routine operations, but less often than the situation above. These conflicts typically occur because of differences of opinion. Examples of these scenarios include completing day-to-day tasks or making decisions for the direction of projects.
  • Conflict least commonly occurs (but still can occur) during planning phases of projects. Similar to one of the scenarios above, there may be disagreements about the directions, goals, or expected outcomes of a project, and this will result in conflict during planning discussions.

Conflict is an inevitable part of any workplace, but you can turn conflict into opportunities for improvement, development, and innovation. Whether you’re a team leader, manager, or individual contributor, it’s essential to be proactive in addressing conflicts, and fostering a culture of collaboration and trust. By doing so, you can help create a more productive and engaged team.

Click the following link to learn more about how the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) can help your organization with conflict management.

Filed under: Conflict, Team Building