14 Jul 2022


Managing Ethical Conflicts in the Workplace

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Academic level: Master’s

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Conflict is inevitable when various individuals with unique backgrounds work together. The disruption of clashes in the work environment can manifest in several ways including, bullying and noncooperation. Anger expressed by workplace conflict can result from mismanagement and personality differences. The outcome of such conflict causes project failure, turnover, and termination. At times stress caused by emotions initiate conflict between managers and subordinates. This paper will identify a common workplace conflict between managers and subordinates and will integrate strategy when presenting practical management of the ethical conflict. 

The conflict that will be described is one between a manager and a subordinate at a large industrial corporation. An employee feels that they are being “ignored” by their manager when they communicate to them. However, when the manager finally does reach out to the subordinate, the employee feels pushed and bullied. The organization is a large corporation. Therefore, stakeholders in the outcome of the conflict include; management, human resources, and those working with the two individuals on any project. Overt conflict is disputes or disagreements that are out in the open and they make the work environment toxic to employees ( Katz, Sosa, and Harriott, 2016 ). Overt conflict is expressed by the manager when speaking to their subordinate, making the employee feeling bullied. In contrast, overt conflict is voiced by the employee when they openly shared that they felt they were being “ignored and bullied” by the manager. Covert conflict is one which deomstrates passive aggressive behavior frequently conveying feelings about disputes indirectly ( Katz, Sosa, and Harriott, 2016 ). Covert conflict is expressed by the manager when he ignores the employee’s requests to upset the employee indirectly. Covert conflict is used by the subordinate when they share with coworkers the manager’s harsh way of supervision. One problem associated with this type of conflict, is both individuals perceive differently, thus believing that their ideas are correct. The attribution errors associated to this workplace conflict include varying perceptions and critiques. The dynamics of a manager-subordinate relationship correlates with the ability for an organization to possess stability. In the conflict between manager and subordinate, there is a perceived lack guidance and positive feedback. The subordinate may feel a break in trust in the relationship if the manager unsuccessfully communicates. This is where successful management of ethics within this conflict should be executed utilizing various conflict management styles to provide a concrete resolution for all parties involved. Also, ethical leaders can demonstrate conflict resolution while simultaneously empowering their employees. 

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Review of Relevant Literature 

In any workplace setting, conflict is inevitable. Notwithstanding, on-going friction or conflict between managers and subordinates may be particularly unsatisfying and to a large extent career-limiting. According to Rahim (2017), characteristically conflicts between managers and subordinates happens when there is an incompatibility in regards to communication or work styles, job performance expectations and personal values. Nonetheless, managers-subordinate conflict is unproductive, uncomfortable and shifts energy from what is significant for an organization. 

When on-going friction goes unconstrained it puts both parties in the spotlight; both for the wrong causes. Current companies are flatter than ever, making everybody inter-reliant on one another for achieving their tasks and objectives (Einarsen et al., 2018) pg.556. Thus, learning to comprehend and address conflict immediately is a better choice than shunning conflict at any cost or getting entwined in them. People who have good communication skills are unsurprisingly more adroit at circumnavigating conflict. From Wallensteen (2015), the aptitude to carefully listen, understand alternative points of view together with a desire to learn and develop associations are vital skills needed to successfully employ in any conflict resolution procedure. 

Once one has established a natural inclination to conflict, it is possible to start options for resolutions. It is necessary to note, conflict resolution is a collaborative procedure. The shortest expanse to resolution is to concentrate on finding an option which satisfies both parties. It may also be very helpful to think of the manager and employee who are conflicting as conflicting partners rather than adversaries (Rahim, 2017). Recognizing the variation and discomfort in style can be helpful in changing the mindsets of both parties towards thinking and encouraging mutual collaboration. 

Conflict Management Style and Resolution 

Establishing a conflict resolution program to the current conflict between the manager and subordinate is vital to preserve strength within the organization. Elements to include in the program include creating policies and clarity within communication and management to resolve conflict. Also, the training will briefly highlight current relevance to workplace conflict and social media. Attribution errors such as varying perceptions and critiquing will be outlined in the workshop so that managers may communicate more efficiently with subordinates. The central strategy of the conflict resolution program is to create a conflict management training workshop available for all managers to attend; the workshop will be mandatory for them to participate ( Rahim, 2017 ). Continued education is integral in the workplace, and the right training by experienced professionals’ highlights creating and maintaining a culture of achievement based on ethics and morale—as opposed to just legalities and compliance ("Managing Workplace Conflict”, 2015).   

Ethical leaders also need to learn to identify ways in which they may be able to manage conflict more effectively. According to Fraedrich and Ferrell (2015) , “An effective leader must therefore have enough knowledge and emotional intelligence to determine the style of others involved in an ethical conflict” ( Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015 ).pg. 321 In the conflict and resolution example found in this paper, it is suggested that the manager has knowledge of how to manage conflict based upon learning different ethical ways to intervene when making the best decision. This training workshop, as part of the resolution will contain ideas to prevent conflict before it occurs. This includes teaching managers the five conflict management styles, “competing, avoiding, collaborating, accommodating, and compromising” ( Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015 ). 

Important Findings from the Literature 

Manager-employee conflict in any organization is too costly to disregard. As such, setting clear expectations and having a strategy for action may help mitigate manager-subordinate friction, which in turn raises the level of confidence and security that subordinate feel to their professions. Leaders and managers alike bring authority to any conversation, as such it is necessary for them not to intimidate direct reports when addressing conflict or offering feedback. Goetsch and Davis (2014), believe it is necessary to look at the situation from the viewpoint of your conflict partner through ‘tying to walk a mile in their shoes' prior to having a sit-down to address your issues and depersonalize the conversation through the use of language which does not suggest blame. 

Disputes and conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. Even if all employees respect those in charge, conflicts may arise as a result of handling different egos and characters. As a consequence, it is necessary to resolve and manage disputes before they turn into eroding concerns, for instance, turnover, and low engagement. It is essential to identify conflicts when it occurs. After identifying it, it will necessary to examine what caused the conflict in order to know how to kick start the conflict management process. Conflicting partners must approach dialogue with an open mind and must attempt to look at the situation from the other's perspective. Finally, it is necessary to find common ground which will suit both parties and this will help manage and resolve the conflict between managers and employees (Einarsen et al., 2018) pg.558. After the managing conflict, there is a need to develop a plan for follow-up development. This will be geared to making sure all steps are followed in the appropriate timeline. 

Setting up a conflict resolution program to the friction between the manager and employee is crucial to preserve strengthen with the company. There are numerous aspects to include in the conflict management procedure, they include developing policies and clarity in communication and management. There is a need for sensitization and training within organizations on how best to address issues. Goetsch and Davis (2014), believe four aspects are key to conflict resolution, they include the right timing which dictates conflict should be addressed as soon as it arises. The second aspect is knowing your boundaries. Conflict may become complicated and unmanageable if the manager and employees do not know the boundaries of the organization, knowing and respecting boundaries is a great way to prevent conflicts. Another aspect is respecting differences. The organization has different personalities from different walks of lives, it is necessary to embrace diversity and respect all employees in order to avoid conflict. The final aspect is confronting the tension. Managers are tasked with addressing issues head-on, sources of tensions and disputes within the organization must be addressed before they become unmanageable ( Rahim, 2017 ). 

Conflict Formula 

  • Source issues and recognize the symptoms: surround the conflict by enquiring open-ended questions, this will help identify the source of conflict which is vital in determining how to address the issue (Avruch and Black, 2014). 
  • Find common ground: conflicting partners can deliberate and find common ground regarding the facts of the condition. 
  • Listen to the viewpoints of your conflict partner: this helps to get facts from the perception of their conflict partner, this helps foster understanding and help resolve the conflict. 
  • Cooperate: to recognize solutions which will eliminate the conflict or friction while opening up communication. 
  • Mutually approved steps and timelines to attain the objectives: after finding common ground, it is necessary to develop subsequent steps and timelines that will be used to attain set goals (Avruch and Black, 2014). 
  • Plan to follow-up on development: this will be geared to making sure all steps are followed within the appropriate timeline. 

Results of Research: Infographic 

The Infographic represents the chief concept within this report and also contains statistical figures taken from dissimilar workplace conflict studies documented in the workplace conflict survey ( Ross, 2010 ). The infographic offers a visual representation of workplace conflict within different sectors, different job titles, and industry type. 

From Figure 1 it is evident that most of the respondents for the survey are from the private sector while the least is from the nonprofit sector, most correspondents by job title are managers. The Infographic ( Figure 1 ) also documents some of the key cost of conflict to the organization, namely grievances and tribunal and lost time. From the Infographic it is evident that HR respondents report that they spent 1%-10% of their working hours per week on managing conflicts which translate to 3.5-4 hours a week ( Ross, 2010 ). The Infographic also indicates that average grievances on an annual basis are 11 with 2 going to tribunal. 

Implications and Conclusion 

In today's world, conflict is inevitable in any organization that embraces diversity. This diversity may be a source of conflict, particularly between managers and subordinates. Disputes between managers and employees are common and they usually happen when there is an incompatibility in regards to communication or work styles, job performance expectations and personal values ( Goetsch and Davis, 2014 ). Nevertheless, managers-subordinate friction is unproductive, uncomfortable and shifts energy from what is significant for an organization. Whenever disputes arise within the organization, it is necessary to address them instantly. There are numerous options for resolving disputes if and when they arise within the organization, the effective way of dealing with conflict should be source issues and recognize the symptoms, find common ground, listen to the viewpoints of your conflict partner¸ mutually approved steps and timelines to attain the objectives, and plan to follow-up on development ( Goetsch and Davis, 2014 ). In order to effectively manage ethical conflict, it is necessary to approach dialogue with an open mind and understanding in order to embrace tolerance and seek a middle ground to resolve the dispute. 


Avruch, K., & Black, P. (2014). Conflict resolution in intercultural settings: Problems and prospects . Manchester University Press. 

Einarsen, S., Skogstad, A., Rørvik, E., Lande, Å. B., & Nielsen, M. B. (2018). Climate for conflict management, exposure to workplace bullying and work engagement: a moderated mediation analysis.  The International Journal of Human Resource Management 29 (3), 549-570. 

Fraedrich, L., &; Ferrell, J. (2015) . Business ethics: ethical decision-making cases (10th ed.) . Retrieved from https://reader.yuzu.com

Goetsch, D. L., & Davis, S. B. (2014).  Quality management for organizational excellence . Upper Saddle River, NJ: pearson. 

Katz, N. H., Sosa, K. J., & Harriott, S. A. (2016). Overt and covert group dynamics: An innovative approach for conflict resolution preparation.  Conflict Resolution Quarterly 33 (3). 

Rahim, M. A. (2017).  Managing conflict in organizations (4 th ed) . Routledge Publishers. 

Ross, H. (2010). Work place conflict survey.  UK: People Resolutions Limited . Retrieved From https://www.slideshare.net/PeopleResolutions/workplace-conflict-survey-uk-report-2010 

Teague, P., Roche, W. K., Gormley, T., & Currie, D. (2015).  Managing workplace conflict: Alternative dispute resolution in Ireland . Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. 

Wallensteen, P. (2015).  Understanding conflict resolution: War, Peace and the Global System . Sage Publishers. 

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). Managing Ethical Conflicts in the Workplace.


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