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Work is stressful enough when you know what your job is.

Even if you work in a lousy work environment, understanding your role makes it easier. But what if your role isn’t clear? How do you reconcile conflicting roles in the workplace?

People who experience role conflict in the workplace often serve multiple roles. They may struggle with identifying exactly what their job is or reconciling two conflicting roles. Does this sound like something you can relate to?

workplace conflict

You are not alone

If it does, you’re not alone. 85% of people in the workplace deal with conflict on some level. Not all of that statistic is related to role conflict, but it shows that conflict exists in the workplace in many forms. Role conflict is less talked about than other types of workplace conflict. This could be because oftentimes the people experiencing role conflict in the workplace are managers and supervisors. Unclear roles tend to come from poor leadership.

role conflict

What Are Role Conflicts in the Workplace?

Role conflicts occur when a person is split between two roles that are incompatible. An example could be a person in a managerial position who is also required to fulfill duties that other employees do. 

Role conflicts cause a negative effect in the workplace when it comes to group dynamics. Conflicting roles can be confusing for the employee and can cause stress and burnout. Role conflicts are different for everyone and each individual affected by the role conflict at work reacts differently.

There are also role conflicts that occur in the workplace when:

  • A person’s values don’t align with the company
  • Roles are not well-defined
  • Employees are asked to do something that doesn’t match their job description or title

If your values don’t match your employer’s or the organization you work for, there will be conflict at work. You might feel torn and experience stress.

If roles are not well-defined, there is also the possibility that you will feel stressed and burn out quickly. It’s difficult to do your job when the lines are blurred and you don’t have a clear idea of what your role is.

Sometimes employees are tasked with things that don’t fall under their job description. If this happens once or twice, it’s probably no big deal. But when this occurs on a regular basis, that’s when role conflict occurs in the workplace.

Recognizing Role Conflicts

There is a difference between role conflict and role ambiguity. Role ambiguity is when the employee’s role isn’t clear. This can cause role conflict in the workplace, but not always. Role conflict is more about contradictory job requirements or roles. It’s important to define the two so that you can recognize when there is role conflict.

You might be experiencing role conflict in the workplace if you’re feeling overly stressed or burned out. Many people may think “all jobs are stressful, why does my experience need attention?” The problem with that line of thinking is that it negates the feelings of stress and overwhelm you feel. Yes, everyone deals with stress in their jobs. If your work environment is so stressful that you feel on edge all the time and so overwhelmed that it’s hard to do your job, you may be experiencing role conflict.

If you’re feeling torn or like you’re serving two masters, it’s time to address role conflict at work. It’s not easy to do, especially if you’re in a managerial role and have to handle other people’s stress and potential role conflicts as well. But role conflicts can lead to a toxic work environment. 

how to deal with coworkers

How To Deal With Conflicting Roles in the Workplace

The key ingredient to managing role conflict at work is communication. Clear communication about expectations is important for managing conflicting roles. Have conversations with your supervisor about your roles. Try to resolve the conflict between the two of you. 

Make sure you get clear answers about what your roles are. If you’re asked to do something that doesn’t fit your job description, speak up and find an appropriate way to resolve the situation.

When addressing role conflicts in the workplace, it’s important to know when to speak up. If your performance is suffering and you’re burning out quickly, it’s time to talk about your experience. 

If you have a positive attitude, it will make for a more positive work environment. It can be hard to be positive when you’re so stressed, but adopting a positive attitude could change things for you. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

It’s important to be aware of personality clashes in the workplace.

You can’t avoid coworkers that you don’t like, but you can be more aware of how you react to them. Especially if you’re serving two roles, the last thing you need is more stress at work. Increased communication between you and your employees and peers will help address multiple roles that occur in the workplace.

Respectful communication is key when addressing role conflicts in the workplace. Avoid instructions. Instead, try asking for cooperation. Foster positive interaction with your coworkers by showing interest in them as people. Ask about their vacation. If they have a picture of a dog on their desk, inquire about the dog. Small things like this add up to a more positive work environment. If your work environment is positive, you’ll feel less stressed. You’ll be able to communicate more clearly about what your role is and how you fit into the work environment.

conflict coaching

How Coaching Can Help Resolve Role Conflicts

Coaching can help when there are conflicts between people in the workplace. The coach acts as a mediator. Conflict coaching works best 1:1 with an employee who is in conflict with another person. If role conflict includes clashes with people at work, conflict coaching could be the right avenue.

In conflict coaching, there are several things a coach may do in the workplace:

  • Build rapport between the people having the conflict
  • Identify the employee’s goals with one another
  • Share perspectives so that each person understands where the other person is coming from
  • Explore options together
  • Clearly define the next steps

Coaching can be between two people, as demonstrated above, but it’s also for individuals. When the manager or supervisor doesn’t handle role conflict in the workplace, a conflict coach might be necessary. When the supervisor is the one with the conflict, that’s when it’s time to bring in a coach to help.

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Next Steps

If you want to discuss therapy for how to manage role conflict in the workplace, we are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation today.


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