Conflict in Psychology

What is Conflict?

Psychologists define conflict as a state of opposition, disagreement or incapability between two or more people or groups of people, which is sometimes characterized by physical violence.

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According to Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, a conflict is a turning point during which individual struggles to attain some psychological quality. Sometimes referred to as a psychosocial crisis, this can be a time of both vulnerability and strength, as the individual works toward success or failure.

According to Brittanica, Conflict, in psychology, is the arousal of two or more strong motives that cannot be solved together. A youngster, for example, may want to go to a dance to feel that he belongs to a group and does what his friends do.  


Conflicts mainly refer to the existence of the clash, which can be interests, values, actions or directions. Psychologically, a conflict appears when one motivating stimulus reduces and another increase so that a new adjustment is demanded.

Psychological Conflicts

4 Types of Conflict

a) Approach-approach Conflict occurs when you must choose between two desirable outcomes.

b) Avoidance-avoidance Conflict occurs when you must choose between two unattractive outcomes.

c) Approach-avoidance: exists when ONE event or goal has attractive and unattractive features.

d) Multiple Approach-avoidance Conflicts: You must choose between two or more things, each with desirable and undesirable features.


Levels of Conflict

a) Interpersonal Conflict- occurs when two people have incompatible needs, goals, or approaches in their relationship.

b) Role Conflict- involves genuine differences in role definitions, expectations or responsibilities between interdependent individuals in a social system.

c) Intergroup Conflict- occurs between collections of people such as ethnic or racial groups, departments or levels of decision making in the same organization, and union and management.

d) Multi-party Conflict- occurs in societies when different interest groups and organizations have varying priorities over resource management and policy development.

e) International Conflict- occurs between states at the global level


Sources of Conflict

a) Social Dilemmas:  Several of the problems that most threaten our human future arise as various parties pursue their self-interests, ironically, to their collective detriment.

b) Competition:  In Muzafer Sherif's experiment (1996), the win-lose competition produced intense conflict, negative images of the outgroup, and strong ingroup cohesiveness and pride.

c) Perceived Injustice: "That's unfair!" "What a rip-off!" "We deserve better!" Such comments typify conflicts bred by perceived injustice

d) Misperception:  Seeds of Misperception are Self-serving bias; Ingroup bias; Fundamental attribution error; Polarize; Self-justify; Stereotype; Preconceptions; Groupthink; Polarize


Causes of Conflict

Additionally, when considering the definition of conflict, it appears as though these factors amounted to several categorizations of causes. Since a person is in conflict with another, it was evident that the causes of conflict stem from each other's characteristics. Very frequently, some determinants remain in the individual features. Similarly, Baron (1989) emphasizes the possibility of conflicting evidence regarding personality characteristics. For instance, he stated that individuals with a Type-A personality experience more conflict than those with a Type-B personality. To return to the point of personal values, Augsburger (1992) and Hahm (1986) noted that individuals in different societies value conflict differently; those in western societies, in particular, view it as a valuable part of life, while those in Korean or Japanese societies (Lebra,1976) believe that conflict is by definition bad and should be avoided at all costs. To return to the point made by (Wong, Tjosvold, & Lee, 1992), it was established that if "a person's objective is to engage in conflict or competition with another, such objective is likely to generate conflict." From an emotional standpoint, we can observe that stress and anger are sources of conflict. Derr (1978) notes that stress induces a tense state in an individual, "a state of tension that can erupt into conflict with another," This anger and frustration inevitably destroy a relationship.


Four areas have been pioneered to better understand the interpersonal conflict between disputants. The first type of factor is perceptual, such as distrust. Second, as Robbins (1987) and Putnam and Poole (1987) have defined, they are the communication factors. Finally, we identify behavioural, structural, and prior interaction as significant factors influencing interpersonal conflict.

Perceptual factors

Due to the fact that opponents in a group have competing goals, they are expected to generate anger, stress, and other negative emotions, which contribute to the formation of incorrect perceptions of the other. As the majority of us have encountered, these perceptions include mistrust of the opponent (Thomas, 1976; Deutsch, 1973, 1990, 1993; Pruitt & Rubin, 1986), misunderstandings, perceiving the opponent's behaviour as harmful, an inability to see the opponent's perspective (Blake & Mouton, 1984), and doubting the opponent's intentions.


Communication is another critical factor that plays a significant role in a conflict. Conflict can affect both the quality and quantity of communication. In terms of quality, it is believed that communication becomes more hostile at this level, including insults, distortions, and misunderstandings. (Bergman & Volkema, 1989; Sternberg & Dobson, 1987; van de Vliert, 1990) Asserted that communication levels could increase or decrease (Pruitt & Rubin, 1986; Thomas, 1976). Additionally, (Robbins,1974) argued that conflict can "motivate disputants to air grievances or to remain silent," thereby avoiding the adversaries ( (Bergman & Volkema, 1989). Additionally, as the disputants discuss the situation with outsiders, a conflict may increase their communication with those not directly involved in the matter (Bergman & Volkema, 1989).

The most visible aspect of the conflict is the face-to-face interactions between disputants. According to (Bergman & Volkema, 1989; Sternberg & Dobson, 1987; van de Vliert, 1990), whenever a conflict occurs, disputants' reactions shift from relatively passive actions such as avoiding each other's gaze to defensive responses such as face-saving tactics (Ting-Toomey, Gao, Trubisky, Tang, Kim, Lin & Nishids, 1991), venting emotions (Thomas, 1992), and confrontation (Morrill (Thomas, 1976).


Conflict alters the structural relationship between group members. For instance, it is believed that interdependence and coordination among members have decreased. Members may develop 'contentious goals' (Pruitt & Rubin, 1986) due to the prevailing conflict, increased discrimination among members, and more significant favouritism toward others (Bettencourt, Brewer, Crook & Miller, 1992).

Previous interactions

Every relationship has a beginning and an end, and in most cases, conflict is the end result. With regards to this subject, previous interactions may begin to affect the current conflict (Tjosvold & Chia, 1989). For instance, (Sherif et al. 1961) preached that if a group has previously failed to reach an agreement, this issue may become emotionally charged, triggering new conflict or introducing prejudice and stereotypes into the group.



4C’s Model - Dealing With Conflict

4C’s Model - Dealing With Conflict

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