Types of Conflicts

Types of Conflicts

Conflict may arise at any level in an organization, starting from the individual level to the organizational level. Depending on the level of conflict, there are mainly two types of conflicts: interpersonal conflicts and inter-group conflicts. Let us discuss these types of conflicts in detail.

Interpersonal Conflict

Individual-level conflict indicates that human behavior is directed by needs, which guide the activities of an individual. Before joining an organization, individuals try to match their needs with the organization’s offerings in terms of salary packages or other benefits.

However, if they observe any inequity with their colleagues in the organization, it may result in a conflict at the individual level. Such a conflict may lead to tension, frustration, and unpleasant behavior in individuals.

For example, an employee who believes he/she is paid less than a colleague tries to load her work on the colleague.

Inter-personal conflict occurs between two individuals. Generally, this conflict arises due to the availability of scarce resources or rewards. It can also occur because different people have different opinions, attitudes, value systems, and styles of working.

In simple words, in interpersonal conflict, a person is in conflict with another individual. Inter-personal conflict is considered to be a major-level conflict that can occur between co-workers, siblings, spouses, roommates, and neighbors. This is the form of conflict most people have in mind when they think about being in conflict.

Following are two important concepts in the context of inter-personal conflicts:

Transactional Analysis

It refers to a model of people and relationships that was developed by Dr. Eric Berne in the 1960s. It is
based on two notions:

  • First, we have three ‘ego-states’ in our personality. These states are parent, adult, and child.

  • Second, these states converse with one another in ‘transactions’.

In simple words, transactional analysis is a social psychological method for improving communication. It outlines how we develop and treat ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we communicate with others.

In addition, it deals with how we offer and accept suggestions that help us change and grow. The undermining philosophies in the transactional analysis are:

  • People can change
  • All of us have a right to be in the world and be accepted

Johari Window

It refers to a communication model used to improve understanding among individuals. The word “Johari” is derived from the names of Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, who developed this model in 1955.

The following two ideas are behind the tool:

  • One can bOne can build trust with others by disclosing information about oneself.

  • An individual can learn about himself/herself with the help of feedback from others. This helps the individual come to terms with personal issues.

Thus, basically, the Johari window emphasizes the role of self-disclosure and constructive feedback. This can help people in building better and more trusting relationships with one another, solve issues, and work more effectively as a team.

The Johari window is a four-quadrant grid, as shown in Figure:

The four quadrants are explained as follows:

Quadrant 1: Open Area

Quadrant 1 represents the information that we know about ourselves and what others know about us. Therefore, this quadrant includes behavior, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and “public” history.

Quadrant 2: Blind Area

This quadrant includes information that we are not aware of ourselves but others know about us. This can involve simple issues that are unknown to us and complex issues(for example, feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, unworthiness, or rejection), which are often difficult for individuals to face directly but can be seen by others.

Quadrant 3: Hidden Area

This quadrant represents information that we know about ourselves, but others do not know about us.

Quadrant 4: Unknown Area

This last quadrant represents information that is unknown to us and others.

The main goal of the Johari window is to expand the open area without disclosing information that is too personal in nature. The model considers Open Area to be the most important quadrant because generally, the more people know about each other, the more productive, cooperative, and effective they become while working together.

The process of expanding the Open Area is called “self-disclosure”. It is a give-and-take process that takes place between an individual and the people that the individual is interacting.

The resolution of interpersonal conflict is a very important issue in OB. An organization needs to put a considerable amount of time and resources to resolve interpersonal conflicts. This is because interpersonal conflict is the most common type of conflict in organizations.

Following are the six generic steps in resolving inter-personal conflicts, as shown in Figure:

Inter-group Conflicts

Conflicts that occur between two or more groups are called inter-group conflicts. These are frequently seen within an organization when two departments are in conflict with each other to acquire scarce resources.

For example, the marketing and the finance department may be in conflict owing to differences in manpower. In addition, two separate departments can be in conflict regarding their contribution to the company. Intergroup conflict is minimized when different divisions work for common organizational goals. It may be helpful to an organization by increasing healthy competition.

One of the most prominent reasons for inter-group conflict is the nature of the group. Some of the other reasons include work independence, goal variances, differences in perception, and increased demand for specialists.

In addition, the individual members of a group also play a prominent role in initiating an inter-group conflict. When groups share some interests and their directions seem parallel, there may be a positive relationship within each group.

However, when the goals and activities of groups differ, each group may view the other in a negative manner. While trying to prevent or resolve inter-group conflict, we should consider the history of relations between the groups in conflict. History repeats itself if left to its own devices.

There are a number of techniques to resolve inter-group conflicts. Some of these techniques are:

  • Avoidance where possible
  • Problem-solving
  • Changing certain variables
  • Constituting a dispute resolution system

The conflict resolution method should be selected on the basis of why the conflict occurs and the seriousness of the conflict. A face-to-face meeting as in problem-solving is a very effective way of resolving misunderstandings or language barriers.

Intra-individual Conflicts

This type of conflict is also known as intrapsychic conflict. It occurs within an individual when an individual argues with himself/herself about an issue. For example, an individual wants to buy a new pair of shoes but knows that he/she should not spend money on them.

Thus, intra-individual conflict occurs when there is inconsistency among an individual`s cognitive elements. This type of conflict can occur in thoughts, ideas, values, emotions, and predispositions.

Conflict at the intra-individual level involves:


It occurs when goal-directed behavior is blocked. For example, when the career growth of an individual is blocked because of various reasons.


It can arise out of approach-approach, approach-avoidance, and avoidance-avoidance situations. Approach-approach conflict occurs when an individual has to choose between two equally attractive alternatives.

For example, a situation in which a manager needs to recruit one out of two equally competent candidates. Approach-avoidance conflict occurs when an alternative has both positive and negative consequences.

For example, a person wants to join an MNC in which the compensation is attractive but job security is less. An avoidance-avoidance situation occurs when a person has to choose between competing alternatives, both of which have negative consequences. For example, a choice between low compensation and low job security.


Role conflict occurs because of clashes among expectations of various roles possessed by an individual. For example, this type of conflict occurs when an individual is asked to perform two or more incompatible roles.

Conflict Resolution and Manageme

Conflict plays both functional and dysfunctional roles, depending upon the impact it has on the performance of employees. In case a conflict improves performance, it needs to be stimulated. However, if a conflict hampers performance, it needs to be controlled and resolved. A conflict has to be resolved especially when it reaches the optimal level.

The figure shows some of the conflict resolution techniques:

The following points explain the techniques of conflict resolution:

Problem Solving

This is a direct approach to resolving conflict in which the source of the conflict is removed. In this approach, the main cause of the conflict is identified and removed to resolve the conflict. For instance, a conflict may arise between the employees and the management regarding compensation. The management resolves the conflict by increasing the compensation.

Super-ordinate Goals

When various parties work for the fulfillment of the same goals, there is less chance of conflict. Therefore, management should set super-ordinate goals to eliminate conflicts. For example, the super-ordinate goals in a project can be delivering a specific set of project deliverables within a given time. This may help in reducing conflict in a team regarding personal goals.

Increasing Resources

At times, a lack of resources can be a cause for conflict. In such cases, increasing the availability of resources can help in removing conflicts. For example, conflict may arise in a project because of the allocation of fewer resources than required. In such cases, conflict can be avoided by deploying more resources.


It is an indirect approach to resolving conflicts. In this approach, the cause of conflict is avoided. For example, two mutually incompatible individuals may be asked to work in separate groups to avoid any circumstance of face-off.


This refers to a technique in which both the conflicting parties are required to give up their personal motives and think collectively to resolve a conflict.

Authoritative Command

Indicates that by the use of formal authority, managers can resolve the conflict. For example, a manager warns two conflicting team members that if they do not resolve their inter-personal problems, action will be taken against them

Altering the Human Variable

It involves various techniques, such as training to change human behavior or attitude to deal with conflict in a better manner. On the other hand, the individual involved in the conflict can be transferred to another place to help resolve the conflict. For example, a team member who does not approve of a manager is transferred to another manager’s team.


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