Conflict - Workplace Warning Signs

Gayle Oudeh

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Seemingly insignificant issues in the workplace can, if left to fester, evolve into debilitating conflicts that affect teams, departments, even the whole organization. Is impending crisis looming in your workplace? Here are some warning signs:

The same issues keep coming up. If you thought you resolved the problem but it keeps resurfacing, be careful. This just may be the tip of the iceberg.

When a conflict starts to escalate, related issues keep popping up around it. Sometimes we're blindsided because we're busy putting out the little fires that we don't even see the cause of the flames in the first place. And, if you don't get to the root of the problem, the “little things" will keep resurfacing. If this is happening in your workplace, start looking for the real cause of the problems.

A flurry of “petty" issues. You may experience some of the ripple effects before you realize the weight of the stone that's been tossed in the pond. A lot of minor complaints add up to one big problem.

Taken individually, complaints may seem insignificant. And sometimes it's tempting to look at each employee's complaint or concern individually and dismiss it because it seems inconsequential. But if you're hearing similar complaints from more than one employee (even if you're hearing ongoing complaints from one employee), there is some reason for this. If employees are complaining, they're not working. And if they're distracted from their work, then you've got a situation that needs to be addressed.

Secretive cliques and informal gatherings. Discussions around the water cooler and in the coffee room are normal. But if they are exclusionary or secretive (the group seems concerned about who might overhear them) there's ore brewing than just the coffee.

When people are unhappy or frustrated by a difficult situation at work, they talk. It doesn't take long for a whole workplace to become “poisoned" by one or two individuals. You can't keep employees from talking to each other, but you can be on the lookout for negative and destructive gossip.

Gayle Oudeh and Nabil Oudeh are conflict management specialists and the principals of the Centre for Conflict Resolution International, a consulting firm that works with organizations of all shapes and sizes to resolve, manage, and prevent workplace conflict. In addition to their combined experience of over 30 years in the conflict resolution field, Gayle and Nabil credit their 18-year marriage for enhancing their understanding of conflict management theory and practice! Their entertaining and positive approach to the subject of conflict has made them sought-after facilitators and speakers. They are the co-authors of the recently published book, Conflict is for the Birds! Understanding Your Conflict Management Style.

For ongoing information, tips and advice about dealing with conflict at work, check out Gayle and Nabil's free newsletter at


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