Tag Archives: Conflict Management

Workplace 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 they all have multiple functions within the coffee shop. Not only must they make impeccable drinks and maintain impeccable attitudes, they are also responsible for general coffee shop 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. Conflicts over task-related issues can escalate into personal conflicts if they are repeated overtime and/or ignored. Person-related conflicts can become quite toxic in a coffee shop, 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 coffee shop 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 coffee shops, 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 coffee shop. If the coffee shop 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.


Integrative Conflict Management System (ICMS)

An ICMS is an adaptive system with stable elements that can help the entire coffee shop navigate the inevitable conflicts that will come up between baristas, managers, and guests.

The society of professionals in dispute resolution (SPIDR) published a guide to help organizations understand what an ICMS is and how to develop it. Spidr (2001) suggests that any conflict management system must be customized to address the specific needs of the organization it is being designed for. A specialty coffee shop demands cooperation and collaboration in a team environment, and many of the team members may be from a younger generation than the coffee shop owners, managers, and guests. This can create misunderstandings based on the lived experience of each group that can contribute to the manifestation of intergroup conflict, a destructive work environment, negative meaning of work, amotivation, and an increased turnover rate.

Hetzler & Speth (2008) recognize that a failure to cooperate can lead to conflict, and the traditional way of resolving conflict is to focus on rightness and divert the decision-making process to an authority to decide who wins and who loses. This characteristic of workplace conflict management can take more time than necessary for many conflicts, and it can alienate certain members of the organization who do not want to follow traditional means for resolving their conflict, or who have less power in the situation. For younger workers, it may be easier to leave the company than to report or cope with extended conflict. Since baristas are typically younger workers, and their conflicts often start with tensions in the moment, it is important for them to have the capacity and authority to resolve as much conflict as possible in the moment the tensions arise, whether that be with management, each other, or guests.

To be effective, Spidr (2001) recommends that an ICMS welcomes conversation over workplace tensions and conflicts and encourages the resolution of these as soon as possible, whether or not an authority is present. However, without support from management or the organization, an ICMS will not be effective for all the internal stakeholders and will ultimately fail to emerge a collaborative conflict-culture. Further, if the internal stakeholders are unaware how to handle difficult conversations or aren’t comfortable with engaging conflict, the system could fail as well. An ICMS will be expensive and redundant without the support, training, and understanding of those who are expected to utilize and enforce it.

Three important skills for engaging conflict are, being aware of one’s own personal biases of the other, being aware of one’s own biases toward conflict itself, and looking at the situation from the other’s perspective as much as possible (Coleman, Deutsch, Marcus, 2014). In this way, the conversation can become a genuine negotiation of interests rather than a competition for rightness and power. When people are interdependently linked over time, such as in the workplace, it is easy to identify the other person as the problem, rather than recognizing the problem as an incongruence between the needs and interests of humans or their organization. This can lead a conflict from simple issues over task or process to more complicated issues between people over how they will continue relating. Fisher, Ury, and Patton (2011) explain that this can be avoided by understanding each other’s perceptions, speaking and listening clearly, avoiding blame while emotional, and having an outlook focused on how to move forward (p. 23). These skills will help individuals change how they treat each other when in the midst of conflict and are important skills to include in any training initiative to support an ICMS, or a specialty coffeeshop.

Training the entire coffee shop on the principles of interest-based negotiation will likely increase the competence everyone feels toward engaging conflicts and tensions in real time. This could decrease the time it takes for guests and baristas to receive a resolution, because the baristas can address their concerns and offer a suitable resolution before the guests (or their team members) leave the coffeeshop for good. Organization-wide support for immediate resolution typically increases the security people feel for engaging conflicts by providing autonomy to address the issue without manager involvement. This could reduce the anxiety associated with threat states that may come up when faced with managerial power, which is the type of anxiety most impactful on the cognitive processes necessary for emotional regulation (Robinson, Vytal, Cornwell, & Grillon, 2013). Lastly, when all the internal stakeholders follow the same, collaborative guidelines for engaging conflict, relatedness among the team could increase through the habit of taking each other’s perspective, being one group rather than several, and not allowing emotions to create blame. This relatedness could decrease the amount of person-related workplace conflict as well, because the baristas and managers will feel connected with each other and desire to communicate respectfully with each other when faced with task-related conflicts before they emerge into personal issues that are much harder to resolve.



Coleman, P. T., Deutsch, M., Marcus, E. C. eds. (2014). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco:

Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (2011) Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Hetzler, D. C. & Speth, A. N. (2008). Future dispute system design: Ethical imperatives, millennial and beyond. Ohio State
Journal on Dispute Resolution, 24

Robinson, O. J., Vytal, K., Cornwell, B. R., Grillon, C. (2013). The impact of anxiety upon cognition: perspectives from threat of
shock studies. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7(203). doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00203.

SPIDR. (2001). Guidelines for the design of integrated conflict management systems within organizations. Journal of
Alternative Dispute Resolution in Employment, 3
(1), 45–48.