Types of Conflict and How to Overcome Them

In literature, writers are taught that there are five types of conflict known as the ‘Big 5’. These are:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Society
  • Man vs. Self
  • And Man vs. Technology

We can say that Rocky 1 is a story of man vs. man, whereas Terminator is definitely a tale of man vs. technology.

But what about real life? We don’t tend to fight killer robots all that often (other than our broken printers), we rarely find ourselves caught in a tornado and we don’t usually get tangled up in the workings of society all that often.

In real life then, we can safely assume that most of our conflicts will come down to man vs. man and man vs. self. These two are perhaps less dynamic but they are certainly more nuanced and often more difficult to resolve. Unfortunately, you can’t punch your way out of a debate with your boss (you can but it doesn’t normally end well for your bank account).

Of course we can break these two types of conflict down much further and there are many categories of conflict that might arise in our usual day-to-day lives. Let’s take a look at them and see how conflict can be resolved in the real world.

Conflicts of Interest

One of the most well-known types of conflict in the real world is the conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is any scenario where two or more people or groups have interests that are in some way opposing. It might be that this is a binary scenario where only one outcome is possible, or it might be that one interest is simply taking priority over the other, to the chagrin of one party involved.

The most straightforward example of this might be if you and your partner both want to watch a different program on TV. This is a conflict of interests where one party is ultimately going to be disappointed.

A more complex situation might be if one of you feels their needs are being ignored by the other. Perhaps one of you is prioritising your career over quality time and that is leaving that person feeling emotionally neglected.

In any case, there are simple steps to resolve these types of conflict – though it might not always seem simple at the time.

The first step is to communicate. You cannot possibly expect to come to a satisfactory solution unless both parties have openly expressed their hopes and aims. How can you reach an agreement if you don’t know what it is that the other party wants? This is the hardest part because communication requires the admission that you are unhappy with the other party’s behavior. This in itself can be enough to trigger an argument.

The second step is to identify if there are any ways in which both interests can be met. If you have two TVs, then perhaps one of you can watch upstairs? Or maybe you can record one program and watch it later.

Failing that, a compromise solution will need to be met. This doesn’t always mean 50/50 – it means understanding through open and honest communication what is the best outcome for everyone involved. It might be that this means more to one person than the other, or that one person is unable to acquiesce but finds other ways to make things easier on the second party.

Conflict of Leadership

A conflict of leadership is a type of conflict that occurs when more than one person believes they should be in charge in a given situation. This results in a power struggle, whether that struggle is explicit or unspoken.

There are many scenarios where this type of conflict can occur, whether that’s in the workplace or when spending time socially with friends.

In some cases, the resolution is simple. If one person has been elected as leader, then they have the right to assert their authority and to ensure that the challenger falls in line.

In other scenarios though, this might be more complex. Perhaps both parties have an equal claim to leadership? In this case, it is always worth asking whether either person indeed needs to be in charge. It might well be that you can both easily have your way and that a more democratic approach can be taken.

For example, when holidaying with friends, you might find that one person attempts to take the lead in terms of the activities that you partake in. This can cause chagrin for other members of the group, if they don’t agree that that person should be in charge. But why not split into two groups? Or simply take votes on your activities?

In other scenarios however, it can make more sense to have one defined leader. This is often a more efficient way to approach certain tasks, as it ensures that everyone knows their role and what they need to be doing. Rather than debating over the best course of action, you can simply carry out your assigned duty.

However, if the leader of the group is elected, then this can lead to less frustration subsequently. Alternatively, there might be a logical choice for leader, if one person has more relevant experience or expertise when it comes to the specific activity or goal.

Conflict of Personalities

Sometimes two people simply don’t get on and personalities clash. This is one of the most difficult types of conflict and often there is no simple solution. After all, a person cannot change who they are or how they come across to others – and shouldn’t have to.

Normally, if two people don’t get along, then all they need to do is avoid one another. However, this won’t always be possible. If the two personalities should work together, or if they have family ties, then they will have no option other than to spend time together.

If you find yourself constantly clashing with the same person over trivial matters, then often the best thing to do is once again to have an open and frank discussion. Identify whether there are things you can each to do make life a bit easier but ultimately agree to disagree and to try and stay out of each other’s way as well as possible. You may not ever be able to get along as good friends but at the very least you should be able to respect one another and this is enough to avoid arguments.

Conflict of Ethics, Values or Beliefs

Too many of us find ourselves in conflicts because of differing beliefs; whether those be political, religious or ethical.

In a work setting, an ethical disagreement might arise if you and a second party have different ways of going about things. One of you might see fit to ‘bend’ a certain rule that the other doesn’t think is acceptable to bend.

Alternatively, you might find yourself in debates with people regarding their religious beliefs, their politics or their general values. These kinds of conflicts are often what will eventually drive nations to war and they once again find a lot of mileage in fiction: Optimus Prime and Megatron are at war due to their different views on the rights of human beings.

Once again, the key here is to respect one another enough to leave each other to their beliefs. People do not need to share an opinion with you and just because you don’t understand their stance, that does not mean that it doesn’t carry any merit!

Try to acknowledge this and be big enough to rise above the desire to change that person’s mind. In fact, you can probably stand to learn a lot from this other person, if you are willing to listen to their point of view!

When a conflict of ethics or views results in a conflict of leadership or interests however, you need to try and look past your differences and once again come to some kind of compromise or democratic solution; if you are unable to simply part ways.

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Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics.

Follow Adam on Linkedin: adam-sinicki, twitter: thebioneer, facebook: adam.sinicki and youtube: treehousefrog

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