Types of Group Conflict

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 8: Group Dynamics

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4



1. Interpersonal conflict:

In the workplace, interpersonal conflict might occur between two co-workers, a supervisor and a subordinate, an employee and a customer or an employee and a vendor.

2. Individual – Group Conflict:

Individual – group conflict usually occurs when the individual’s needs are different from the group needs, goals or norms.

3. Group – Group Conflicts:

The third type of conflict occurs between two or more groups. Example, when two departmental groups fight when they want to allocate budget to their department.

In the workplace, conflict cannot be avoided altogether. They occur when one party perceives that their interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party. Conflict can be categorized into three categories: 

1. Individual level conflict 

2. Group level conflict 

3. Organizational level conflict 

I. Conflict at Individual level

A. Intra individual conflict or intrapersonal conflict:

Intra individual conflict that an individual faces within himself and is closely related to the goals, a person wants to achieve or roles in the manner in which he wants to achieve goals.

1. Goal Conflict:

Goal conflict occurs when the attainment of one goal hinders the possibility of accomplishing another. Three types of separate Goal conflict are further identified as

a. Approach – Approach Conflict 

b. Approach – Avoidance Conflict

c. Avoidance – Avoidance Conflict 

a. Approach - Approach Conflict:

The individual is faced with the necessity of making a choice between two desirable goals. Since both goals are desirable this is the least stressful situation. Eg.: “Shall I go on a project to Singapore or go on a project to Australia?”

b. Approach - Avoidance Conflict:

The individual is both attracted and repelled by the same goal. The same goal has qualities that make the individual want to approach it and other qualities that make him want to avoid it. Eg.: A person may be offered an excellent job in a rural location.

c. Avoidance - Avoidance Conflict:

The individual is faced with two goals both of which are negative or repellent. He is between the rock and hard place. Eg.: Worker may dislike his present job, but the alternative of leaving and looking for another job may be even more painful. 

2. Role Conflict:

A situation in which a person is expected to play two incompatible roles. For eg. A boss will suffer role conflict if forced to fire an employee who is also his close friend. Role conflict in the organizations arises mainly due to lack of clarity of roles, multiplicity of roles and divergent role expectations.

B. Inter individual or interpersonal conflict:

The clashes that occur between two individuals when they find themselves working or living in the same location and are unable to come together in order to accomplish a goal or objective. 

Four major sources of inter individual conflicts are:

1. Personal differences:

Everyone has a unique background because of their culture, family and upbringing. So, this can be the major source of conflict.

2. Information deficiency:

This arises from communication breakdown in the organization. It may be that two people in conflict are using different information or that one or both have misinformation. Unlike personal differences, this source of conflict is not emotionally charged and once corrected, there is little resentment.

3. Role incompatibility:

This type of interpersonal conflict draws from both intra-individual role conflict and intergroup conflict. Specifically, in today’s horizontal organizations, managers have functions and tasks that are highly interdependent. However, the individual roles of these managers may be incompatible. For eg. the production manager and sales manager have interdependent functions; one supports the others. However, a major role of the production manager is to cut costs, and one way to do this is to keep inventories low. On the other hand, the sales manager has a dominant role in increasing revenue through increased sales. The sales manager may make delivery promises to customers that are incompatible with the low inventory levels maintained by production. The resulting conflict from role incompatibility may have to be resolved by higher level management or system development through advanced information technology.

4. Environmental stress:

These types of conflict can be amplified by a stressful environment. In environments characterized by scarce or shrinking resources, downsizing, competitive pressures, or high degree of uncertainty, conflicts of all kinds are likely to take place.

II. Group Level Conflict:

Conflict may occur at group level. There may be two types of conflicts: intra-group (within the group itself) and intergroup (between groups). 

1. Intra-group conflict:

When conflict develops between two individual members of the same group, it is called intra-group conflict. intra-group may be thought of in terms of group characteristics and to some extent interpersonal conflict, especially if two persons are from the same group. It may arise in three situations:

  1. When group faces a novel problem of task 
  2. Where new values are imported from the social environment into the group.
  3. Where a person’s extra group role comes into conflict with his intra group role.

It is visualized more when people come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and have different political and religious views.

2. Intergroup conflict:

It arises out of the interaction of various groups. There are many factors in the organization, which determine intergroup relationships. Conflicts over authority, jurisdiction and resources are quite common. These factors can influence relations between two or more groups. If these factors are not positive, they tend to create conflict among groups. These factors are:

a. Competition for resources:

Most organizations today have very limited resources. Groups within the organization view for budget funds, space, supplies, personal and support services.

b. Task Interdependence:

If two groups in the organization depend on one another in a mutual way or even a one way direction there tends to be more conflict than if groups are independent of one another. The more diverse the objectives, priorities and personnel of the interdependent groups (for eg. Research and production), the more conflict there tends to be. 

c. Jurisdictional Ambiguity:

This may involve ‘turf’ problems or overlapping responsibilities. For eg. conflict might occur when one group attempts to assume more control or take credit for desirable activities or gives up its part and any responsibility for undesirable activities.

d. Status Struggles:

This conflict occurs when one group attempts to improve its status and another group views this as a threat to its place in the status hierarchy. One group may also feel it is being inequitably treated in comparison with another group of equal status in terms of reward, job assignment, working conditions, privileges or status symbols. Human Resources Department justifiably often feel they are treated inequitably in relation to marketing, finance and operation departments.

III. Organizational Level Conflict:

In an organization situation, conflict may manifest itself in a number of different modes. Such conflicts maybe of two types: intra-organizational conflict and inter-organizational conflict.

1. Intra-organizational conflict:

This conflict is conflict within the organization itself. intra-organizational conflict may be again in various forms, for eg. at individual level and at group level. Since these are all part of the organization, the conflict among them are of much concern to the organization. There are many reasons of conflicts in an organization but mainly three kinds of internal strains can be identified:

a. Horizontal Conflict:

Horizontal conflict refers to conflict between employees or departments at the same hierarchical level in any organization. The source of conflict between departments consists of pressures towards sub-optimization. Each department may sub-optimizing by independently trying to achieve its own departmental goals. For eg. Production department may prefer long economical runs whereas the sales department may insist on quick delivery. Again when two departments are functionally interdependent, breakdowns in the performance of one department can lead to serious conflicts.

b. Vertical Conflict:

Vertical conflict separates people in various levels of the occupational ladders in organizations. It refers to any conflict between different levels in the organization. It occurs usually in superior-subordinate relations.

C.G. Smith identified three reasons for vertical conflicts:

  1. Inadequate communication between levels 
  2. Conflict arises essentially from different status in the organizational hierarchy, and
  3. A distinct lack of shared perception and attitudes among members at various levels.
c. Line and staff conflict:

Controversy and conflict are inherent in the concept of line and staff. It is not easy to divide and distribute expertise, authority and roles in equitable quantities between the line generalists and staff specialists. The concept authorizes the splitting of various functions into two categories: Hierarchical and Non-hierarchical, that is creation of low status and high status positions create a discrepancy between expected and actual authority leading to resentment and frustration in all the parties involved.

2. Inter organizational conflict:

Inter organizational interactions result in conflict among different organizations. However, it is not necessary that such interactions may result in conflict. Inter organizational conflict may include:

a. conflict between organizations pursuing similar objectives.

b. conflict between government agency and Organization.

c. conflict between head office and manufacturing unit.

inter organizational conflict is more extensive, more diffuse than conflicts between individual and groups

Process of Conflict / Stages of conflict

As we all are aware that conflict is a process, this means that there are a series of events. The stages of conflicts are:

1. Latent Conflict:-

Latent means hidden. The process of conflict begins with ‘latent conflict’. The conditions for conflict such as scarce resources, communication problems, role ambiguity are present but the conflict has not yet emerged. Here, they only anticipate conflict.

2. Perceived conflict:-

Whether the latent conditions exists or not – conflict may be perceived. Perceived conflict results due to the party’s misunderstanding of each other’s true position.

3. Felt Conflict:-

Even though people perceive that there are conditions for conflict, conflict will not arise unless it is felt or personalized.

4. Manifest conflict:-

This is the stage when open confrontation takes place between parties. It takes the form of over conflictual behaviours like aggression withdrawal, apathy etc. All of these behaviours reduce organizational effectiveness.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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