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Sources of Conflict

Sources of Conflict

Author: marlene johnson

 At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the range and nature of factors that can lead to conflict.

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So what sparks conflict? What are all the factors that fuel a conflict? It seems like there are quite a few. Well, I'm Marlene, and I'd like to spend some time in this tutorial looking at that question with you.

To begin, let's return to the idea of an unmet need or interest, because that's the basis behind all conflict. We have two parties. They have needs. They have interests. And one or the other party's perceiving that their need or interest is incompatible with the other party.

So, a need or interest is an action, belief, or physical item that a party perceives as important or essential to his or her satisfaction or happiness. Now, an unmet need or interest could come from two different sources. It could come from an external source.

Now, the external source is a need that is a physical, tangible object. This is an external physical need, a need that is a physical, tangible object. For example, you could have a family that's dividing up the inheritance after a death, and the feud develops over some of the objects, some of the family heirlooms.

It looks like tangible objects here are at the center of that conflict. You could have a structural conflict. You have to drive to work every day, and it takes you two hours to commute. And so that distance and that time is a structural conflict. You could have a conflict over data.

You really need the information, and you aren't getting it on time, and that's something outside of yourself. That's a spreadsheet. You need that in order to finish the report. Economists might have information that they've gathered about the economy, and they're differing about how to interpret that. So that is an external physical need.

So the second source for an unmet need or interest is an internal need. Now, an internal need is a need that is an emotion or other internal phenomenon. So here are some examples. You feel that your work is not being recognized, and you'd like some recognition for a job well done at work. Or you feel as though as a parent your values are different here in terms of what you're going to allow the kids to watch on television.

So you have a particular value here, a particular need to have that recognized in the way you parent your children. It could be a relationship need. I really like to talk this out with you. I want to spend time talking things out. You would like to just get the job done. You want to go to it, not a lot of conversation.

You're more of a bottom line analytical. So those are relational types that could find themselves in conflict. So what's important, though, to realize here is whether it's an internal need or an external physical need, regardless of the factors, they're not mutually exclusive.

For example, you could go back to this argument, this fight, this family feud over heirlooms. And is it really about the piece of artwork, or once you begin to look at this conflict, perhaps discuss, perhaps mediate, are there relationship issues here, relational patterns where one sibling perhaps feels that another sibling always gets their way. They're never listened to.

Could it be a values conflict? One sibling is just very nostalgic, would like to keep things. Some of the other siblings thinks, no, why don't we sell this off and get the money. We'll divide the money up. Is it values? Is it relational? If it simply a physical object?

It can manifest in different ways depending on the real source of the conflict. So a conflict can present as one thing and then manifest quite differently when you get to the bottom of it. The same thing could be true of a data conflict. You may think this is simply about the spreadsheet you didn't get. Perhaps it's communication issues.

Perhaps there's a misunderstanding about what's important. Perhaps the communication went out that was faulty in terms of exactly what was needed in the report. So you discover the real issue here is one of communication, not of data. So in summary, conflicts can arise from something external or tangible or from an internal need or emotion.

Rarely is a conflict come from just one thing, and rarely is there only one factor involved. Usually when you get to the bottom of something, you'll find that a conflict that presents one way may have multiple factors. Thank you for being part of this tutorial. I look forward to seeing you next time.

Terms to Know
External/Physical Need

A need that is a physical, tangible object.

Internal Need

A need that is an emotion or other internal phenomenon.


An action, belief, or physical item that a party perceives as important or essential to his/her satisfaction or happiness.