Barista Conflict

Organizational conflict shows up when interdependent individuals clash over task-related issues and/or person-related issues. (De Dreu, 2007). For baristas, task-related conflicts can happen unexpectedly because baristas have multiple functions within a cafe. Not only must they make impeccable drinks and maintain impeccable attitudes, they are also responsible for general cafe support tasks such as washing dishes, bussing tables, sweeping, preparing food, washing windows, mopping floors, cleaning bathrooms, restocking merchandise and food, managing money, upselling, educating, maintaining equipment, etc. It can be relatively easy for baristas to conflict about who should do what that day, and how or when it should be done. Person-related conflicts can become quite toxic, because space behind the counter is limited and baristas do not get to choose who they work with, or who they serve. If there are clashes, they also don’t always get to choose to remove themselves from the tension immediately. Therefore, conflicts must be handled in real-time with or without a manager or lead present. This makes it important to have competent and autonomous baristas who feel secure in addressing tensions and conflicts between guests, themselves, and their managers.

Intergroup dynamics is another source of conflict that can become quite damaging if misunderstood or left unchecked. Kriesberg & Dayton (2016) discuss perceived differences as one of the preconditions for the manifestation of conflict. When groups are bound together through the interdependent nature of organizational functioning, perceived differences could escalate into destructive conflict. Not only this, but perceived differences could emerge into a dysfunctional communication style between the groups and quickly turn into the belief that the other group has less value, and thus the individuals associated with that group do not deserve to be treated as equals (Fisher, 2014). Once this negative meaning of the other becomes a group norm, then individual and group-level behaviors can take on a destructive meaning, regardless of the intention behind the behaviors (Deutsch, Wetzler, & Chung, 2014).

Individuals who have identified with one group tend to communicate with other groups as though they are entirely different, despite any shared characteristics between the groups themselves such as the common cafe struggle to serve high quality coffee as fast as possible. If incongruent group-level meanings are not known or recognized, then destructive dynamics will continue to function, often beneath the awareness of those involved. In cafes, these groups usually form between baristas who work during the day and those who work during the night and also between managers and baristas and front of house and back of house, and guests and baristas. The more difference between the two perceived group identities, the more conflict potential there is in the cafe. If the cafe culture supports intergroup conflict, accidentally or not, group identities may become so differentiated that small tensions can escalate into major conflicts without warning, and all the stakeholders suffer.


De Dreu, C. K. W. (2007). The virtue and vice of workplace conflict: Food for (pessimistic)thought. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29. 5-18. doi: 10.1002/job.474

Deutsch, M., Wetzler, J. G., & Chung, C. T. (2014). A framework for thinking about research on conflict resolution initiatives. In P.T. Coleman, M. Deutsch, & Marcus, E. C. (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (pp. 1061-1086). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fisher, R. J. (2014). Intergroup Conflict. In P.T. Coleman, M. Deutsch, & Marcus, E. C. (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (pp. 230-252). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kriesberg & Dayton (2016). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (5th ed). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.


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