Birkman logo Get Started

Conflict is inevitable in any team environment. As employees bring their unique perspectives and job experienceinto their current positions, it is almost expected to have a period of turbulence as projects increasingly become more complicated and team dynamics are established. Conflict can positively contribute to team performance. However, in the instances where it is unresolved or unnecessary, it can test a team’s resilience when these differences start to be perceived negatively, resulting in delays in projects and animosity. When unresolved concerns linger throughout a team, employees can begin to feel unproductive and hostile towards each other.  

Among the leading reasons for workplace conflict are: 

1) Differences in perceptions on job prioritization  

2) Interpersonal habits 

However long the list of work-related grievances may be, most issues can be categorized into two types of conflict: Relationship Conflict or Task Conflict. Below is a deeper understanding of the two types of conflict, as well as how you can create a resilient team by properly leveraging conflict into a positive experience.

Task ConflictRelationship Conflict
Conflict over "what"Conflict over feelings
Conflict is about the task, project, or goalDisagreement is based on personal issues 
Constructive conflictUnhealthy conflict
Simplest to resolveMore challenging to resolve

Task Conflict

Task conflict arises when employees have different understandings of their role in a project and the means to complete the task. Conflicts of this nature can lead to arguments over the best practices to complete a job, what the goal is for the task, and varying opinions on the overall desired outcome. Depending on the team’s dynamic and experience working together, task conflict can halt a team in their tracks before production can begin. 

Establishing clarity within a team is a tactical approach to solving task-related conflicts. A working team environment with clarity continuously strives to understand and create alignment between the team’s people and tasks. Task conflict requires more objective-based solutions and are issues that should be worked on before beginning a project. Unresolved task conflict can lead to project delays and cause financial implications, which can be detrimental to an organization. 

Relationship Conflict 

Relationship conflict arises through disagreements that are directed at differences in personal values, personality, and beliefs. This type of conflict can result in employees feeling personally attacked when receiving feedback. If relationship conflict is improperly solved, it could contribute to lasting discourse amongst the team. Since relationship conflict is emotionally based, it could fundamentally shake a team’s foundation, ultimately leading to underperformance, resentment towards the team, and encourage employees to behave in a self-serving way. 

Relationship conflicts must be solved in a much more personal manner in comparison to task conflicts. Establishing psychological safety can empower a team by creating a space where members feel free to take risks and be vulnerable with one another. A common reason for initial differences between peers is failure to recognize common ground between one another. By creating this type of work environment, teams will be able to better manage criticism by establishing distinctions between individuals and their job. However, if the problem persists after taking these measures, then further steps must be taken. 

The Truth About Conflict 

If conflict is unavoidable, then why even bother doing anything about it? Healthy workplace conflict can benefit a team in a variety of ways when appropriately managed. When done correctly, the open conversation can lead to the creation of more inventive processes, new product ideas, a mutual understanding amongst peers, and better communication habits. Organizations that do not overcome conflict fall behind those who can. The Birkman Method is an effective workplace tool that can help foster healthy conflict and create productive conversations around ways to resolve interpersonal tensions. Learn more about using Birkman for conflict resolution through our case study.

Register for The Birkman Method Certification

Gain access to over 40 reports, including the Birkman Signature Report, and data-driven insights to improve your organization or consulting practice.

Register to Attend

Featured Resource

Nav Resource Panel Webinar

Watch the webinar on demand.

Learn how shifting from feedback to feed forward helps you develop talent in real time.

Watch Webinar