What Is Task Conflict in the Workplace? (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 10, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Conflicts are inevitable in the workplace, and HR managers can benefit from understanding them because employers and employees typically have different backgrounds, ideologies, and other differences. Task conflict, also called content conflict, is a workplace disparity on how best to undertake work tasks. Understanding the concept of content conflict in work environments can help you discover strategies to understand it, correct it, and enhance its benefits. In this article, we learn about content conflicts, explore other types of workplace conflicts, review their effects, discuss how to handle them, and highlight an example.

What is task conflict?

Task conflicts are organizational disparities between employees on how best to complete tasks and company objectives. These conflicts occur because of differences in needs, behaviours, ability to work with others, and work ethics. It also occurs when employees or team members disagree on how to interpret organizational policies and programs. While content conflicts can enhance work tolerance amongst employees when addressed correctly, they can also cause discord amongst employees and affect a team's output if managed poorly. Below are common areas of work where employees might experience content conflict:

  • A disagreement between employees about how a team distributes tasks to team members

  • A disparity between employees on how an organization shares its resources

  • When a junior employee performs a task incorrectly because of unclear information

  • When different employees understand work facts and objectives differently, including performing these tasks based on false organizational orientation

Read more: 8 Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

Other types of workplace conflict

Task conflict is one of three significant kinds of conflict in the workplace. Below are the other types of conflict:

Relationship conflict

Relationship conflicts are workplace disagreements resulting from varying personality traits amongst employees. They can affect emotional interactions in an organization. An example of a relationship conflict is tension between colleagues who express themselves in different ways. Relationship conflicts can be challenging to manage. Often, employers leave the employees to resolve their relationship conflicts, as it's a difficult situation to oversee fairly.

Because relationship conflicts arise from emotions, it can affect the work atmosphere and reduce the level of productivity of affected employees and maybe the entire workforce. Relationship conflicts require fast intervention by the organization's management to address the issue and prevent it from becoming a more complex situation.

Value conflict

Value conflicts occur when there's a difference in employees' values, experiences, identities, and philosophies. Below are some common scenarios where individuals experience value conflict:

  • Employees with varying religious backgrounds and beliefs can experience conflicts over their values.

  • Employees with different political opinions and orientations can have value conflicts, while
    employees with different work ethics may also experience value conflicts and a tense work atmosphere.

  • Employees with different social experiences and beliefs may also have value conflicts.

Read more: Answering "Tell Me About a Time You Had a Conflict at Work"

Effects of content conflicts

Here's a list of some of the positive and negative effects of content conflicts:

Positive results of content conflicts

Some of the benefits of content conflict include:

  • Fosters healthy competition: Managers can use content conflict among employees to promote healthy competition. For example, they might reward employees' ideas for improvements.

  • Improves problem solving: Handling content conflict in an office can allow managers and employees to discover challenges and create adequate solutions. This continuous process improves their problem-solving skills.

  • Results in new processes: Content conflicts often occur when an employee disagrees with a company's workflows. When these employees express their disagreement, they may suggest a unique approach that's more efficient or beneficial to the team.

  • Fosters teamwork: When employees handle content conflict by speaking about their differences, they can work together to find compromises and create solutions. A positive reaction to content conflicts is likely to improve their teamwork skills and motivate employees to work together.

Read more: What Conflict Resolution Skills are Important for Workplace Success?

Negative results of content conflicts

Below are some of the negative results of content conflicts:

  • Impacts working relationships: Continuous content conflicts in an organization might result in resentment. This work atmosphere can affect professional relationships between employees if the management doesn't resolve the disputes.

  • Leads to disengagement: Disengagement may happen when an employee loses interest in their work. Workplace conflicts, including content conflict, can result in disengagement.

  • Affects productivity: Content conflicts result in frequent disparities on how to undergo a task. When employees spend their time nurturing a workplace conflict instead of focusing on their work, it can affect the company's productivity.

How to handle task conflict in the workplace

Here are steps you can take to manage content conflict at work:

1. Identify the conflict

The first step to handling content conflict in the workplace is identifying the conflict and finding potential solutions to resolve the issue. Identify the people in the workplace who are experiencing the conflict. It may be as few as two colleagues or an entire team. Next, you can identify the reason for the issue and signs of the conflict, like hostility, arguments, and gossip. Finally, you can assess the impact of the conflict. For instance, it may be a toxic work environment or a lack of productivity.

2. Address the conflict

Addressing conflict is an integral part of resolving issues in the workplace. If you work in the employee relations department or are an in-house HR consultant, you can arrange a meeting between yourself and the people experiencing the conflict. If you're an affected party, you can also respond to content conflict proactively by discussing the problem with your colleagues directly. Below are some tips for addressing conflict in a meeting:

  • Listen. All parties can use their active listening skills to understand others' perspectives on the subject. It can help avoid tension and encourage open communication.

  • Collaborate on possible solutions. You can insist on collaborating with the involved parties to develop a solution. Employees who don't agree on the correct methods to complete tasks can discuss ways to solve the conflict to all parties' satisfaction.

  • Ask questions. As an employee, you can ask your supervisor questions about tasks, roles, and allocation of resources to understand better the most efficient ways to accomplish tasks. If you're the HR manager, you can ask questions from each party to understand them fully and develop an equitable solution.

3. Identify strategies for conflict resolution

You can identify conflict resolution strategies to solve the conflict. Below are some standard techniques for content conflict resolution:

  • Specify tasks. You can encourage managers to specify tasks and allocate roles to team members. Task allocation can help reduce content conflicts in a work environment.

  • Collaborate on solutions. Employees and managers can use their creative skills to collaborate on conflict solutions. When each person involved agrees to a resolution, it's more likely to work long-term.

  • Do trial runs. To determine which method is most effective, employees can try different approaches. These trial runs enable employees to experience different work styles and encourages them to accommodate differences and disparities.

4. Resolve the conflict

After identifying the strategies for resolving the conflict, you can implement the plan. If employees can't agree on their own, they can consult their manager to help them further mediate the conflict. If the strategy proves ineffective, you can develop a more equitable plan.

Read more: Promoting Collaboration in the Workplace: All You Need to Know

5. Evaluate results

You can analyze the results of your content conflict resolution. Try to determine how your resolution strategies worked to solve the problem. Managers can decide if the initial signs and effects of the content conflict remain to analyze whether their conflict resolution strategies were successful.

Task conflict example

Below is an example of content conflict in a campaign management team and a solution to resolve the dispute:

Conflict: Isaac and Donald are employees of Skyline Marketing Company. They belong to a campaign management team of a political aspirant in the region. They experience a content conflict because of different work approaches. Isaac prefers to prepare adequately for a task before undergoing it, while Donald typically uses less prep time and still completes the job efficiently. Isaac believes that Donald's work style may impact the quality of their teamwork and arranges a meeting with Donald to discuss their discrepancies.

Solution: Isaac and Donald begin the meeting by taking turns to share their thoughts on the conflict while actively listening to the other. They then highlight particular features they want their work to reflect. After, they end the meeting feeling fulfilled and motivated to ease conflict tensions and deliver an excellent campaign management strategy for their clients.

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