Managing Conflict At Work

Have you ever been involved in a conflict with a colleague or supervisor? Perhaps you’ve been made to feel like an outcast by your colleagues who don’t seem to like you very much? There’s bound to be conflict in every human relationship. People come in so many varying personalities, and the interactions between these personalities can result in outcomes that are sometimes heated. 

When people don’t get along at work, overall productivity (how to be more productive) will most certainly be impacted. So regardless of whether you’re a junior employee or overlooking staff at a managerial level, understanding human dynamics and how different personality traits interact with one another is fundamental at the workplace.  

Personality Traits and Types

So what makes a person who they are? Each person is unique, and breaking down their personalities into categories, or personality types simply don’t describe a personality with much accuracy. This is because a majority of people fall somewhere between the spectrum of any personality trait. 

That being said, many organisations are undeterred in trying to understand the dynamics of employee interactions better. They need some form of framework to work with, even if the framework will not be able to identify employee’s personalities with maximum accuracy. Many such psychological frameworks were designed to narrow down human personality traits into a handful of personality types. 

Among the most popular methods of identifying personality types is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI instrument was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, based on the theory of psychological types described by renowned psychologist Carl Jung. The MBTI method breaks down human personality traits into 16 types based on the metrics of introversion and extroversion, decision-making preferences, and their information-gathering style.

Another personality assessment framework that’s popular across the corporate landscape is The Big Five method. It was developed in the 1970s by two research teams led by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae of the National Institutes of Health and Warren Norman and Lewis Goldberg of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Oregon. The theory identifies five factors that define personality types, with the use of the mnemonic OCEAN


  • O – openness 
  • C – conscientiousness 
  • E – extroversion 
  • A – agreeableness 
  • N – neuroticism 

There are various other personality assessment frameworks available to list here, but they all involve measuring personality traits through some type of metric or another. Most are catered toward individuals or groups. While they may not be able to define every personality with 100% accuracy, these frameworks can serve as a guide for employees to understand themselves better and for employers to understand better the kinds of personalities working under them. 

4 Common Reasons Why People Don’t Get Along At Work 

There are infinite reasons why two or more people don’t get along, but at the workplace, there are some universal reasons that almost inevitably will lead to conflict.  

1. Personality clash 

Some people will become instant lifelong friends, while others will just simply not click. Not everyone will get along at the office, and the larger the organisation, the more varied personalities there are. While you’re not required to be friends with everyone at work, it’s important to have a certain level of mutual respect and have a team leader that sets the right tone for everyone to get along professionally. There’s not much way around personality clashes other than to recognise that everybody has different styles of working and unique ways of being themselves. 

2. Poor communication 

Always mind your language! Poor communication is when a job description isn’t clearly defined, or when a new policy is implemented without consultation, or when management at an organization is just plain lousy at articulating an important message. Bad communication can often lead to conflict, contempt, and confusion that resulted from a misunderstood or misinterpreted message. If this is an issue you’re facing, try to pick up effective communication skills or engage an expert to coach you with it. After all, effective communication is a skill that anyone can develop. 

3. No trust and respect 

There are so many different scenarios where a lack of trust and respect can unfold. Whether it’s between your team members, between management and employees, or between an employee and a supervisor, losing trust and respect will ultimately brew contempt and unhappiness at the workplace. It’s best to identify the reason for the lack of trust and respect and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand. For that to happen, a high degree of open communication is required to resolve the issue. Ask, listen, and explore your options if you find yourself in such a situation.  

4. Toxic work environment 

This is a broad one but far too commonly heard among many employees. A toxic work environment can be all the factors of why people don’t get along at work, as mentioned above. It can also mean bad leadership, colleagues who gossip and form cliques, having no work-life balance, counter-productive competition, or even kiasu (a colloquial term in Singapore that describes a fear of losing and therefore adopt a selfish attitude) employees who might go all out to sabotage their own team members. 

Let’s face it; employees don’t just come with a set of skills. They bring with them all the elements that make a human being human. Humans can be irrational, emotional, and logical at the same time. Psychological frameworks can help to some extent in understanding the complexities of worker dynamics at the workplace, but ultimately, it takes someone with a good combination of empathy, sociability, tolerance, and a compromising attitude to interact with another person without any negative outcome. It’s also important to realise that we cannot force everybody to get along and that differences in personalities are normal. As long as mutual respect is in order at the workplace, these personality differences should be harnessed and celebrated to make an organisation successful. 

Check out our career guidance page for more useful lifestyle and career tips!   

Stay Connected! Join Our Newsletter

Weekly tips and articles to empower you in landing your dream job!