Task Conflict Vs. Relationship Conflict

by Josalin Mitchell; Updated September 26, 2017
Conflict can make employees butt heads or put them together.

Conflict is a noticeable disagreement among employees or groups of employees. Depending on the situation, management may need to take different steps to resolve conflict. Sometimes this might be simple, like asking a frustrated employee to take a personal moment. Understanding the different forms of workplace conflict can make it easier to identify and resolve.

Task Conflict

Task conflict, also called task-led conflict, occurs when employees disagree over their understanding of their goals and tasks. It is a disagreement between two people or in a group of people over the decisions they should make. Team members will have different perceptions of their goals, different solutions and opinions about the issue. Task conflict is normal in the workplace and doesn’t need to be managed as assertively as relationship conflict. (See References 1 and 2)

Relationship Conflict

Relationship conflict, also called interpersonal or emotional conflict, takes place on an emotional or personal level between employees. Relationship conflict results from team members' disagreeing with one another and thus viewing themselves as opposed to one another. It is basically a clash of personalities. Relationship conflict results in considerably more stress between employees and can be more difficult to manage than task conflict. (See References 1 and 2)

Distinctions

Task conflict is relatively easy to manage compared to relationship conflict for management staff. In most cases, managers can take a hands-off approach to the situation and allow employees to work out the problem on their own. If employees reach a true stalemate and cannot seem to agree on how to carry out their tasks, management will need to assign them tasks. Relationship conflict, since it is emotionally based, can skew the work environment into a negative zone and make everyone less productive. In the case of relationship conflict, direct, immediate intervention is needed by management to prevent the problem from further decreasing employee productivity. (See References 1 and 2)

Outcomes

Task conflict usually leads to more productive outcomes in the end than the team started with. Disagreements about work tasks between employees are natural, just as disagreements between family members in the household over daily tasks are normal. The dialogue a task conflict initiates between team members can result in better communication and understanding between team members. Relationship conflict, on the other hand, can result in a pervasive negative attitude at the workplace. When emotions run high, employees can begin to view themselves less as team members and more as individual workers, becoming mistrustful or even resentful of the team mentality that management tries to create. (See References 1 and 2)

Considerations

Certain forms of task conflict are worse than others. According to the Team Building Portal, task conflict can be further differentiated between routine conflict and procedural conflict. Procedural conflict is a task conflict over a complex problem, like forming a strategic management plan. Since procedural tasks are more difficult, they require team communication and open dialogue. Routine task conflict is conflict over simple tasks that should not really require any debate. This kind of task conflict can be more detrimental to the team. (See Reference 2)

About the Author

Josalin Mitchell began her writing career in 2009. She has written web content as well as grants, training manuals, reports and brochures for nonprofit agencies. Mitchell has a Bachelor of Arts in English and women's studies and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching in English education.

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