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Five Signs that Workplace Conflict is Escalating during this time of COVID-19

We are all experiencing an unprecedented period of change and transition in these past few months as we adapt to the realities of COVID-19. This includes both how we live our home lives and our work lives. Adapting to change on so many fronts all at once is challenging and stressful for everyone. This stress impacts behaviours and can create friction in working relationships, showing up in the form of conflict.

We all like to think that conflict will go away or improve if we let it be.  Unfortunately, this rarely happens.  Failing to manage conflict early has negative impacts and can create an entirely new spin-off of difficult issues such as deteriorating trust and broken working relationships.

Healthy conflict should be welcome in our workplaces.  It should be constructive and not turn unproductive with no resolution. Discussing differing ideas allows us to share information, collaborate with others and find the best solution. Engaging in respectful dialogue to reach a creative solution is the hopeful outcome of resolving conflict.

If a disagreement cannot be resolved productively, conflict can escalate creating negative outcomes.  Here are some warning signs that conflict is escalating in your workplace;

  1. The focus shifts from the problem to becoming personal.  ‘Jack is being unreasonable with his expectation that we can meet this deadline’
  2. People become discouraged (frustrated) with on-going dialogue and become reluctant to discuss the issue.  ‘What’s the use of having another meeting, we can’t get anywhere with this’
  3. Camps or coalitions are formed and those involved persuade others to join their side.  ‘Don’t you agree that our team lead is taking us down the wrong path?’
  4. Extensive time and effort are spent protecting the group and their opinions (ideology).  Team members become distracted and spend time in small group discussions or behind closed doors.
  5. People become openly hostile or isolated.  This may be expressed through inappropriate behaviours such as negative remarks, shouting, leaving meetings abruptly or avoiding discussions and interactions with team members.

The Danish Center for Conflict Resolution shares a graphical representation of conflict escalation that is captured here:

If you are noticing these signs in your workplace its time to address the issue by creating a safe space for dialogue.  You can find more information on how to address the issue here:

Conflict & Working Relationships:

Nine Strategies for Resolving Conflict –

Why Empathy will get Workplaces through COVID

The Workplace Fairness Institute works to support organizations and employees in conflict through workplace restoration, conflict coaching, facilitation, mediation, and training.


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