Three Kinds of Conflict and Their Characteristics

All conflicts involve tension between divergent parties. It can sometimes be positive, as it stimulates change. However, it can also be disastrous, especially if you don’t know how to manage it.
Three Kinds of Conflict and Their Characteristics

Last update: 31 July, 2021

Conflict occurs when the interests or objectives of two or more individuals or groups are at odds. Sometimes, the differences are so great that it’s impossible to reach an agreement. Different kinds of conflicts stem from different kinds of arguments. 

What’s characteristic of all types of conflict is the appearance of two either partially or completely mutually exclusive positions. In principle, this means that they can’t exist alongside each other. Therefore, one prevails over the other. Or an alternative is reached that satisfies both parties.

Knowing the different types of conflict there are means that you’ll be better placed to resolve them. As a rule, there are three different kinds.

“A small state increases by concord; the greatest falls gradually to ruin by dissension.”

 -Sallust-

Types of conflict according to content

When talking about the content of conflict, we refer to the motivations and purposes of the clash in question. These may be as follows:

  • Power conflict. This happens when one source of power questions the dominance or legitimacy of another. It isn’t necessarily negative. In fact, this kind of conflict encourages a counterbalance in democracies.
  • Conflict of interest. This occurs when the goals of one person or group are opposed to those of another. For instance, what benefits one group may harm another.
  • Value conflict. In this case, it’s the hierarchy of values or the values themselves that are opposed to each other. Here, there are two or more competing ethical systems. Each party perceives that validating the other would mean sacrificing their own worldview.
  • Personality conflict. This happens when two incompatible personalities clash. For example, a quiet person may be irritated by a noisy one.
  • Communication conflict. Here, there’s no real conflict. Instead, it’s simply down to mismanagement of communication. It leads to an emphasizing or deepening of differences between the parties concerned.

Conflicts according to interaction

Conflicts can also be classified regarding who takes part in them. This categorization is useful in defining who the active subjects are in an argument. It also helps in the drawing up of possible solutions. These types of conflict are:

  • Intergroup. This occurs between two or more groups. It involves competing communities. The most obvious example is war.
  • Intragroup. It happens when factions are formed within a group. It can occur in any kind of group, including family.
  • Interpersonal. This kind occurs between two individuals. It doesn’t involve a group. One example could be a dispute between a couple or two co-workers.
  • Intrapersonal. This is completely different from the other kinds. In fact, in this case, the battle is with yourself.

Two women arguing.

Conflicts according to the level of reality

These may seem surprising to you. Nevertheless, they’re extremely frequent. As a matter of fact, in these cases, the ultimate factors are perception and intention. It means that not all conflicts are equally real, nor do they have the same practical implications. Within this group are:

  • Real. The conflict objectively exists. There are objectives, interests, or attitudes that clash with each other.
  • Imaginary. Here, there’s no objective conflict, but a misperception. In fact, one person believes that there are disagreements with another when, in reality, there aren’t. In other words, they perceive something to be true that isn’t.
  • Invented. Again, this is imaginary. However, in this instance, it’s deliberately generated. Furthermore, it’s based on lies and manipulation. For instance, when someone accuses another of being aggressive to harm their image in front of others.

Different types of conflict have different levels of intensity. For example, some might be only mildly stressful, while others can have major consequences.

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  • Hernandez, M. S. L. (2017). Teoría del conflicto y tipos de conflicto. Susana Gil Martínez.