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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What is Conflict?

Insha'Allah in the next few posts we will be focussing on conflict management as a follow up to anger management, as both are very closely related.

What is conflict

“Conflict is an interpersonal process that occurs whenever the actions of one person interfere with the actions of another.”

“Conflict is a psychological state of indecision, where the person, is faced simultaneously with two opposing forces of equal strength that cannot be solved together”.

“Conflict is a cognitive-affective process: it influences the emotions and the mind”.

In our everyday lives we are often faced with conflict. This can take the form of disagreements, clashes, struggles, fights and arguments. It is important to note that conflict can be either positive or negative. It may lead to the resolution of a situation, likewise it can also lead to a worsening of the situation, and perhaps even to violence and death.

The difference between anger and conflict

The basic idea that needs to get across here is that “anger” is an emotional state that occurs on an individual level whereas “conflict” occurs on an emotional, cognitive and physical level. Conflict usually occurs between people. (Although inner conflict within the person does also occur). Conflict usually occurs between two opposing groups or persons. It can perhaps be said that conflict is a reaction to anger, so anger comes first and conflict follows.

Reasons/ Causes for conflict

Sometimes conflict occurs on a larger scale. For instance, conflict can occur between social groups, race or religious groups, between governments, institutions and even between countries. Some of the reason for this type of conflict is discussed below.

Differing Goals
The most obvious source of conflict is differing goals between parties, especially when there is a scarce resource and people have to compete for the same thing. In other words, conflict might arise when there different parties want the same thing but for different reasons.

Structural imbalances: class conflict
Conflict might occur because of the imbalances in society, for instance when some groups are rich and others poor.

Threat to important values
People develop different ways of life, cultures, ideologies, religions, etc. When people differ about these things it can lead to major conflict because people’s inner values and belief systems are being challenged.

Scarce resources
When there are not enough resources like food, jobs, homes etc, then conflict is likely to result because people are fighting for these things and they are frustrated and driven by their needs. They are not thinking about having good relationships and living peacefully with people because their most basic human needs is not being met.

Sometimes conflict can also occur between people in the same group, who believe in the same thing. They differ in the way that they want things to be done. So their goals are the same and therefore do not cause conflict but the way in which they intend to achieve their goals differ and cause conflict.

Advantages and disadvantages
“Conflict is like fire. A fire can be useful: it can warm you in winter or it can cook your food. But if the fire gets out of control, it can cause a lot of damage. It can destroy things which can never be repaired or replaced”. (Free to Grow Lifeskills).

Conflict can be good if it helps you to resolve certain problems and improve your relationships but if it becomes destructive instead of constructive, conflict can destroy your life, on a large scale and also on a small scale.

To understand your style of handling conflict you can follow the link below. This should give you a better understanding of  how you currently deal with conflict as well as what you can do to start dealing with it in a more constructive manner.

Once again if you'd like to discuss this further after having read this post or taking the conflict questionnaire, please feel free to e-mail me (, or leave me a message here:)

  • Anstey, M. (1998). Negotiating Conflict. Cape Town: Juta & Co,Ltd.
  • Gift of the Givers Careline. (1999). “Self- Discovery and Growth Course”. Unpublished Course Manual.
  • Free to Grow Lifeskills. “How to handle conflict”, Workshop manuals
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