Frictions in the workplace: How they arise and how to address them

Frictions in the workplace: How they arise and how to address them

Claudia García

February 11, 2021

March 10, 2021

We must consider that we dedicate a great amount of time to our work, where in addition to performing our functions, we have to deal everyday with coworkers from other areas and other hierarchical levels. Each person is unique and has a different personality and way of seeing things. This is why it's not that uncommon to have disagreements or frictions between colleagues which can lead to conflicts, but do we really know what frictions in the workplace are?

What do we mean by frictions in the workplace?

They are disagreements that arise within a company, usually when two or more employees pursue different goals and fail to reach an agreement between them. This often results in a tense work environment that leads to increased difficulty in achieving the job functions established by the company. 

According to this definition, it is understood that in order to have a good work environment it is of vital importance that these frictions or conflicts can be resolved. So, which types of frictions are there?

Types of conflict

Several types of conflicts can be established, which can be classified according to 3 criteria. Firstly, we could differentiate according to the type of conflict the so-called dysfunctional and functional ones. Secondly, according to those involved in the conflict, intrapersonal, interpersonal, inter-group and inter-group conflicts can occur. Thirdly, according to the causes that motivate it, one can distinguish conflicts of information, of relationships, of interests, of structures and of values.  

In order to know how to prevent and resolve these types of frictions, it will be necessary to know what causes provoke them.

What are the factors that trigger frictions in the workplace? Why do these conflicts arise?

  • Miscommunication: Not having smooth communication between workers, or between bosses and workers, can lead to misunderstandings that result in conflict. Especially in a context like the one we are living in now, where communication has gone from being face-to-face to being virtual, this type of friction is more likely to develop.
  • Conflicting personal values: not accepting other colleagues' religious, political, and social ideas can lead to personal discussions that affect the work environment.
  • Work pressure: Setting a date too close or bringing work forward can put pressure on workers. This pressure can make workers more susceptible and may make it easier for altercations to occur.
  • Scarcity of resources: the company does not provide workers with adequate means or tools to carry out their function correctly. This can lead to increased competition among colleagues and consequently to certain disagreements.
  • Different perceptions: it occurs when workers have different views on a certain issue. This disagreement can lead to arguments and difficulty in resolving this type of conflict.
  • Different objectives: it arises when the company does not define in a clear and concise way what the objectives are. This can lead to misunderstandings among the workers.
  • Inadequate distribution of tasks: not having the tasks of each worker defined can lead some of them to assume responsibilities that do not correspond. This can create a conflict with another colleague when performing tasks that belong to that colleague.

How to address frictions in the workplace?

1. Preparation: At this point both sides of the conflict must put aside their differences and open their thinking to other different options. We must make them understand that accepting that they have nothing to lose, whether they are right or wrong, will not be conducive to resolving the conflict.

2. Management of emotions: The feelings that arise when a labor conflict occurs are negative and if these negative emotions are not recognized, if not managed, they can interfere with resolution. To properly manage the emotions that are being felt because of the conflict it is important to attend, accept and understand what is being felt.

3. Reparation: It is important to try to repair the damage that may have been caused by the conflict, a fairly efficient way is to apologize, but to do this it is necessary that the person feels it in order for it to work.

4. Understanding: Fluid communication must be established with colleagues and superiors. It is important to listen actively to understand the situation of the other, something that requires a great effort, although undoubtedly, it is worthwhile because it is the beginning to agree and resolve the conflict.

5. Attend to proposals: At this time, the proposals themselves will be presented as those of others in order to provide a solution to the conflict through different alternatives and options until the best agreement is reached for all.

Frictions in the work environment can be a problem not only for the employees but also for the company, that is why they must be detected and solved in time. In addition to these techniques it would be helpful to try to prevent this type of conflict before it arises so that the work environment does not suffer.