Managing Friction in the Workplace

A workplace needs all kinds of personalities, strengths and approaches to be successful. Unfortunately, sometimes certain traits clash and cause friction in the workplace. This is just human nature. Even the closest of families or the best of friends don’t always get along.

Although minor conflicts are to be expected, as a manager it’s your job to make sure any friction is nipped in the bud before it becomes a serious issue and impacts on the business.

Melanie Astbury, HR Manager at Office Kitten, gives her tips for minimising workplace friction:

Be aware

Not everyone who has an issue with a colleague will be confident enough to come to you. It’s your responsibility to be aware and initiate resolution.

To do this, you will need to develop a heightened awareness. Are voices being raised? Snappy comments or tones being heard? Are there any personalities that don’t seem to click as well as others?

It might also be the things you don’t hear that provide telling signs. Are there certain co-workers who don’t speak or choose not to work together? Using your discretion, either ask them directly or ask other colleagues why this is the case, to understand if there are deep seated issues that need to be addressed before they flare up.

Then ultimately you have the decide whether to take action. Are these signs of looming disaster or can you comfortably ignore them as part and parcel of office life?

Set out guidelines

It’s obviously important to encourage workers to use their initiative and try and resolve disagreements between themselves. But be warned that this can lead to further misunderstandings if not handled sensitively. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have a set of protocols in place to deal with conflict, and that everyone is aware of your company guidelines. That way everyone knows the approved way to deal with situations as they arise.


Miscommunication is the most common cause of workplace conflict. Tensions rise through confusion. To limit this you should make sure each member of the team has a clearly defined role and their remit is shared with everyone in the team. This prevents any “but I thought you were responsible for this!” recriminations.

Also, if you or fellow managers are setting work, it is important you are aware of demands placed on team members from other areas of the business. This is to ensure you’re not applying unfair pressure. This is because unfair pressure leads to stress, a key tension trigger.

Creating harmony

In most workplaces it will fall to you to help build relationships that foster harmony. There are simple ways to bring colleagues together, for example a trip to the pub, charity fundraisers or a Christmas party. They needn’t cost much but are effective in encouraging staff to see each other as people rather than just colleagues. This in turn creates a sense of togetherness that translates back to the office as workmates realise their colleagues are essentially nice people and that work-based problems can be resolved if they are talked through as people on the same team.