Causes of conflict

Every person who enters a human service agency has had experiences (physical, emotional and mental) that they carry into the situation. In most circumstances, we as workers don’t know which of these people’s experiences could be a precursor to conflict, leading to aggression or violence when they come into the agency.

Sometimes clients may seem fine when they leave the agency, but negative attitudes can cause clients to build up animosity towards a worker or an agency. This can mean that when they next come to the agency to see you they are already ‘fired up’ and ready to ‘strike’.

The following interactive diagram indicates the linkage between experience and environment relating to a client coming into the agency, and how that could lead to violence or aggression.


Adapted from Diagram 2: Experiences of the individual using the workplace (Leather et al. 1999)

A Microsoft word version of Diagram 2 (Word Document 44KB) is also available.

Note: Clear and consistent rules for appropriate behaviour should be communicated when interacting with individuals.

Physical environment

The physical environment can also play a part in how a client may feel whilst entering or attending an organisation. It is essential that the design of a workplace environment is conducive to the clients and employees.

  • Aesthetics can affect people’s moods. Use neutral colour schemes, limit the artwork and clutter on walls. In general promote a relaxed and organised atmosphere.
  • Ventilation and thermal control are important elements in determining the emotional control of people. A stuffy and hot atmosphere may lead to frayed tempers.
  • Seating should be comfortable, clean and sufficient for people waiting. Chairs ideally should have padding and arms, so people can lever themselves up if necessary.
  • The positioning of seats should also be considered to allow people personal space, and be away from elements such as direct sunlight or the draft from a door or window.
  • Inadequate light for reading may lead to frustration.
  • Too bright or flickering flights can upset people.
  • Toilet facilities should be clearly signposted and clean.
  • Interview rooms should provide privacy, but also enable staff and colleagues to be aware if there is a problem occurring.
  • Children should be catered for with appropriate toys and an area to play in. The toys should be clean and in working order.
  • Poor queuing arrangements may lead to clients becoming aggressive.

(Swanton & Webber 1990)

Other factors include:

  • Lack of privacy
  • Overcrowding
  • Noise
  • Poor attention to safety issues.

It is important that the above points are acted upon and reviewed regularly, and that workers are encouraged to be reflective about their own and the agency’s performance. Workers also need to continually prepare to change to ensure that the work environment is as harmonious as possible to reduce instances of conflict.

Last modified: Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 2:44 PM