What is Conflict? Definition, Features, Views, Types, Causes, and Ways To Resolve

What is Conflict?

Conflict is any disagreement between two or more people and groups. Whenever two or more people have different interests, values, goals, and understanding conflict arises. It may be in a person, within people, within groups, or within organizations.

In other words, conflict refers to all kinds of opposition or antagonistic interaction between or among individuals and groups. It exists whenever one party perceives that another party has hampered or is about to hamper, the accomplishment of goals.

Conflicts indicate a scarcity of various things such as understanding, agreement, and compatibility among people in a sharing environment. It can arouse emotions and anxiety, lower satisfaction, and decrease performance.

In organizations, conflicts arise due to various reasons, the one reason is when employees do not get the salary they expected. Similarly, when one employee agrees with the given responsibilities and another is not.

conflict between boss and employees


  • Conflict involves incompatible behavior; one person interfering, disrupting, or in some other way making another’s action less effective – Dean Tjosvold.
  • Conflict is disagreement among two or more individuals, groups, or organizations – Griffins.
  • Conflict consists of all kinds of opposition or antagonistic interaction. It is based on scarcity of power, resources, or social position and differing value structure – Stephen P Robbins.

So, conflict is a process by which a person or assembly senses frustration in the pursuance of some plans, goals, or objectives. It is closely related to change and interpersonal dealings.

Related: What is Planning in Management?

Views On Conflict

There are 3 views on the conflict, the traditional view, the human relations view, and the internationalist view. They explained as:

The Traditional View

According to the traditional view, all conflicts are harmful and avoidable. Conflict is viewed negatively and associated with turbulence, agitation, destruction, irrationality, and violence.

The Human Relations View

Behavioral scientists argue that it is a natural and inevitable outcome in any organization and as such should be accepted. Conflicts are bound to arise in organizations because an organization is composed of individuals having different goals, values, and perceptions.

So conflict is unavoidable and need not always be harmful. Under certain conditions, it could lead to more innovative solutions to problems.

The Internationalist View

This is the modern view on conflicts. Here the disagreement is regarded as not only inevitable but also useful. The internationalists argue that if harmony, peace, and cooperativeness prevail in an organization for a long time, the organization is likely to become non-responsive to innovation and change.

A minimum level of conflict is required to enhance competency and make it critical and creative.

Characteristics of Conflict

The main features of conflicts are mentioned below:

A Series of Events

Conflict rarely emerges as a singular event but rather as a series of interconnected incidents. It tends to evolve over time due to differing opinions, interests, or approaches, ultimately culminating in a noticeable clash between parties.


Often, conflicts stem from misunderstandings or misinterpretations of actions, words, or intentions. What one party perceives may differ from the intended message, leading to discord and tension.

The Inevitability of Conflict

It is an inherent aspect of human interactions, and its occurrence is virtually inevitable in organizations or workplaces. Diverse individuals with unique perspectives and priorities are bound to encounter conflicts due to their distinct needs and aspirations.

Source of Creativity

Paradoxically, conflict can spark creativity and innovation. When individuals or groups engage in conflicting ideas, the clash of viewpoints may lead to the emergence of fresh insights, alternative solutions, and novel approaches to problem-solving.

Opposite of Cooperation

Cooperation and conflict represent opposing forces. While cooperation emphasizes collaboration, harmony, and shared goals, conflict highlights the divergent interests, disagreements, and tension between the parties involved.

Dynamic Process

Conflict is not static; it is a dynamic process that evolves and changes over time. It may intensify or deescalate, depending on the actions and responses of the involved parties. Effective conflict management requires recognizing its fluid nature and adapting strategies accordingly.

Also Read: What is Strategic Management?

Catalyst for Growth

Conflict, when managed constructively, can serve as a catalyst for personal and organizational growth. It challenges individuals to reflect on their own perspectives, biases, and communication styles, fostering self-awareness and personal development.

A Test for Relationships

The presence of conflict tests the strength of relationships within an organization or workplace. It reveals the level of trust, respect, and communication existing between parties. By addressing conflict in a healthy manner, relationships can be strengthened and trust can be rebuilt.

A Part of Everyday Life

Conflict permeates various aspects of our lives, including our professional endeavors. Whether it arises from differences in opinions, work styles, or priorities, conflict is an integral part of navigating relationships and achieving collective goals in organizations and workplaces.

Types of Conflict

4 types of conflict

Intra-Personal Conflict (Within an Individual)

Intra-personal conflict arises inside an individual. It arises due to divergent goals and multiple roles, which the individual is expected to play.

Goal conflicts occur when an individual faces the problem of choosing among competing goals. Role conflicts arise when the expectations of a role are materially different or opposite and the individual can meet one expectation only at the cost of other expectations.

It also occurs due to role ambiguity. Role ambiguity occurs when an individual is not clear regarding his duties and responsibilities.

Interpersonal Conflict (Between Individuals)

It occurs in a condition when two or more persons interact with one another. Such interaction may take place between peers or seniors and subordinates.

The conflict between them may arise due to the difference in the choices made by them. It is a result of an individual’s inability to confirm the norms of the group. The main causes of it are personality differences, perceptions, clash of values and interests, power and status differences, scarcity of resources, etc.

Inter-Group Conflict

It occurs between two or more groups in the organization. Many intergroup conflicts arise for organizational causes rather than interpersonal causes.

The conflict between line and staff, between production and sales department, and between management and unions, are examples of group conflicts. The major reasons for intergroup conflicts are competition for scarce resources, joint decision-making, task interdependence, introduction to change, and incompatible goals.

Inter-Organizational Conflict

Inter-organizational conflict is called when it arises between two organizations. It is a result of business competition. Both conflicting parties generally engage in providing similar types of services or products. Both parties become barriers to each other’s success.

Causes of Conflicts

There may be various causes/reasons for conflicts in the organization. The manager has to take the necessary steps to resolve these conflicts. The most causes of conflicts in the organization are pointed out below:

Managing Conflicts

The manager should take careful steps to resolve these organizational conflicts, if not the organizational goals can not be achieved in time and with the expected resources.

As a manager, you should go for conflict stimulation, prevention, and resolution techniques which are considered the most effective conflict management techniques in the workplace.

Conflict Stimulation Techniques:

Conflict stimulation refers to intentional actions or techniques employed to incite or escalate conflicts within organizations or workplaces. While conflict is generally viewed as disruptive and undesirable, there are instances where controlled conflict can be beneficial for promoting creativity, innovation, and improved decision-making processes.

The following are four techniques commonly used to stimulate conflicts:

  1. Reorganizing: Restructuring organizational units or departments to introduce changes that create friction and conflicting interests, disrupting established dynamics.
  2. Communication: Encouraging open and transparent communication channels to foster diverse opinions and perspectives, leading to clashes and disagreements.
  3. Encouraging Competition: Introducing performance-based incentives or rewards that fuel conflict as individuals or teams strives to outperform one another.
  4. Bringing in Outsiders: Engaging external consultants or experts with fresh perspectives that challenge existing norms, leading to conflicts as individuals defend their positions or resist change.

Conflict Prevention Techniques

Conflict prevention techniques in the workplace refer to proactive measures and strategies employed to minimize the occurrence or intensity of conflicts. Rather than allowing conflicts to escalate and disrupt the functioning of the organization, these techniques aim to identify potential sources of conflict and address them before they become major issues.

The following are four common conflict prevention techniques:

  1. Superordinate Goals: Emphasize shared objectives to encourage collaboration and reduce conflicts arising from competing goals.
  2. Reduce Interdependence: Restructure workflows or responsibilities to minimize reliance on conflicting parties, reducing potential clashes.
  3. Exchange of Personnel: Rotate or exchange individuals between conflicting groups to promote understanding and collaboration.
  4. Liaison Group: Establish a forum for ongoing communication and conflict resolution among representatives from conflicting parties.

Conflict Resolution Techniques

Conflict resolution refers to the process of addressing and resolving conflicts in a constructive and satisfactory manner. It involves finding mutually agreeable solutions that meet the needs and interests of all parties involved.

Here are four common conflict resolution techniques:

  1. Problem-Solving: This technique focuses on identifying the underlying issues causing the conflict and working collaboratively to find a solution that satisfies everyone’s interests. It promotes open communication, active listening, and the exploration of creative alternatives.
  2. Accommodation: In this technique, one party willingly yields to the other’s needs or preferences to resolve the conflict. It emphasizes maintaining relationships and prioritizing harmony over individual desires.
  3. Compromising: This technique involves finding a middle ground where each party gives up something to reach a mutually acceptable outcome. It requires negotiation and a willingness to make concessions to reach a fair resolution.
  4. Avoidance: Sometimes, conflicts can be temporarily set aside or avoided when the timing or circumstances are not conducive to resolution. While avoidance may not be a long-term solution, it can provide a cooling-off period or allow for further reflection before addressing the conflict.

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