Interpersonal Communications Conflict Scenarios In The Workplace


To solve workplace team-related problems through identifying and negotiating interpersonal relationship conflicts


Working in groups of four of five, students are given a series of actual workplace scenarios detailing interpersonal relationship problems among individuals working in teams. Students must define the problem, identify the individual(s) causing the problem, and develop several solutions that will allow the team to continue to work well together. Students are not permitted to develop solutions that include an appeal to management; the problem must be solved in a sensitive and professional manner by resolving relationship problems among team members. Students document their plans for possible solutions, the pros and cons of each solution, and informally report to the class.

Conflict Negotiation Scenarios

Consider, discuss, and respond to the following situations. Explore the range of possibilities for solving these group process problems.

  1. A fellow employee, Phil, has not been contributing equally to complete the normal weekly work at hand. Phil claims he is contributing, but that he is swamped with other work and the emotional aftermath of a bitter divorce. Some fellow workers are upset that he has been so lax and feel that they should take their complaints about Phil to the supervisor. You are good friends with Phil and know he's not lazy but feel that he may be overdramatizing his problems a bit. Your brought up the topic with Phil over coffee last night, but he was defensive and maintained his "innocence" he even accused you of not sympathizing with him.
    • What alternatives are there to the course of action your fellow employees want to take (filing a complaint with the supervisor)? How might your suggestions improve the situation without involving the administration or hurting Phil's professional reputation?
  2. Your work group is composed of two women and five men. The two women have brought up a problem to the group: They feel that the men are dominating the group process and, more importantly, the decision making. Three of the five men tell you privately that the women are "taking advantage of being women" to gain power, and one even confides in you that he considers the women "bitches." You know that the women are right and that they are following ethical group process by bringing up the issue to the group, rather than running to the boss. You feel, however, that you might jeopardize your own reputation (and future with the company) by supporting them, especially since the corporation is dominated by men. One of the men in the group appears to be neutral, as far as you can tell.
    • What are your possibilities?
  3. A fellow worker, Alice, has been reporting to the boss the progress of your group in such a way that it appears that she is the central force and the "idea person" in the group. This is not true since her contributions have been about equal to the others. The other group members don't know she has been advancing her position in the organization at the expense of others (and maybe even making others look unproductive). You know what Alice is doing. Alice is slightly above you in rank, and you like her and work well with her. You feel, however, that her easy and regular access to the boss and inaccurate reporting of the group's progress will ultimately undermine the others in the group.
    • Considering your rank and relationship with Alice, what are your options, short of saying nothing?
  4. Recently, you and three or four other members of your group have been increasingly aware of personal disagreements and unspoken resentments among the people with whom you work. There is no official procedure to handle such problems, and you realize that, not only is productivity (personal and collective) suffering, but that everyone appears to be unhappy in general with the declining working conditions these problems have created.
    • You feel the same way and would like to do something to improve the situation.
    • Considering the fact that these three or four other individuals are also aware of the problem, what can you do?

Typical Results

Considering few students have much workplace experience, they normally devise solutions that may well be workable, considering their lack of extensive information about the problems. Students find this exercise stimulating since it involves actual workplace problems (taken from my consulting experiences).

Copyright 2006 Institute for Higher Order Thinking at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA.
Material may be reproduced with permission. Contact Dr. Eric Pappas for copyright permission.

Back to Top