The Nature Of Conflict In Groups


Wednesday, 5.41am

Sheffield, U.K.

Britain is not homogenous; it was never a society without conflict. The English fought tooth and nail over everything we know of as English political virtues – rule of law, free speech, the franchise. – Stuart Hall

Are you the kind of person that speaks their mind and stands up for what they believe in, or are you the kind of person that listens, deliberates, looks for compromise? What creates the need to do this in the first place?

The conditions for conflict

Imagine a number of people swimming up and down, back and forth. As long as they keep to their lanes everything is fine. If they move off their lane, however, and into someone else’s way then you have the creation of a situation, one that may be quickly resolved, or one that escalates into conflict of one kind or another.

There are a number of instances where conflict can arise as shown in the image below.


This list of conflict types covers a huge spectrum; it’s mostly what we read in the news every day. It’s a vast topic and there are many sides to each story in each type. That’s part of what makes it hard to decide where to focus when looking at this area. At the same time any conflict situation you are likely to face probably involves a mix of all these elements so you do need to understand them as a whole to see what is going on.

The interplay of attributes

Joining a group is something we do several times as we live our lives in society. You’re born into a particular group, gaining an ethnic identify and a culture. As you grow up you start to define your interests, both individually and as a group. You start to take on roles with increasing responsibility throughout your life and you’ll spend most of that in social settings, including the work you do at your organization, where you will also interact with other organizations and groups with their own collections of individuals with their own cultures, ethnic identities, interests and roles.

It doesn’t take much to see that there are inevitable flash points, situations where something doesn’t go right, where someone swims into someone else’s lane and tempers start to flare. There’s a process to this, an initial event leading to a reaction which either escalates into full-fledged conflict or that is de-escalated through the actions of one or both parties.

In addition, you can have conflict within each group or between different groups, all with the continuing mix of attributes depending on how diverse they are.

One model that seems useful in understanding these areas the idea of stereotypes.

We’ll look at those in the next post.


Karthik Suresh

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