Types of Conflict

Learning Outcomes

  • Differentiate among types of conflict

In literature, fledgling writers learn that there are many different kinds of conflict that arise in literature. One might see a plot that outlines the “man vs. man” scenario, and another might be “man vs. nature.”  When examining workplace conflict, one sees that there are four basic types, and they’re not terribly different from those other conflicts you learned in freshman literature except that they all deal with conflict among people. They are:

  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Intragroup
  • Intergroup

 Intrapersonal Conflict

The intrapersonal conflict is conflict experienced by a single individual, when his or her own goals, values or roles diverge. A lawyer may experience a conflict of values when he represents a defendant he knows to be guilty of the charges brought against him. A worker whose goal it is to earn her MBA might experience an intrapersonal conflict when she’s offered a position that requires her to transfer to a different state. Or it might be a role conflict where a worker might have to choose between dinner with clients or dinner with family.

Interpersonal Conflict

As you might guess, interpersonal conflict is conflict due to differences in goals, value, and styles between two or more people who are required to interact. As this type of conflict is between individuals, the conflicts can get very personal.

Jobs v Sculley

Apple is a global brand; in fact, its reach is so prevalent you’re most likely in the same room as at least one Apple product. However, it wasn’t always such a strong contender in the market.

When Macintosh sales didn’t meet expectations during the 1984 holiday shopping season, then-CEO of Apple John Sculley demanded that Steve Jobs be relieved of his position as vice president of the Macintosh division. Cue interpersonal conflict. As Steve Jobs was still chairman of Apple’s board, it was Sculley’s wish that Jobs represent Apple to the outside world without any influence on the internal business. Steve Jobs got wind of this and tried to sway the board in his favor. The conflict was put to an end by the board when they voted in favor of Sculley’s plan. Jobs ended up leaving the company, disclosing that hiring Sculley for the CEO position was the worst mistake he ever made.

However, Jobs went on to found the company NeXT (a computer platform development company), and when in 1997 NeXT and Apple merged, Jobs retook control of Apple as its CEO, where he remained until he resigned in 2011 because of health issues. Steve Jobs was largely responsible for revitalizing Apple and bringing it to be one of the “Big Four” of technology, alongside Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

Intragroup Conflict

Intragroup conflict is conflict within a group or team, where members conflict over goals or procedures. For instance, a board of directors may want to take a risk to launch a set of products on behalf of their organization, in spite of dissenting opinions among several members. Intragroup conflict takes place among them as they argue the pros and cons of taking such a risk.

Intergroup Conflict

Intergroup conflict is when conflict between groups inside and outside an organization disagree on various issues. Conflict can also arise between two groups within the same organization, and that also would be considered intergroup conflict.

Within those types of conflict, one can experience horizontal conflict, which is conflict with others that are at the same peer level as you, or vertical conflict, which is conflict with a manager or a subordinate.

Practice Question

Creating good conflict is a tough job, and one that’s not often done right. But organizations that don’t encourage dissent won’t be around for very long in today’s world. Companies today go out of their way to create meetings where dissension can occur, reward people who are courageous enough to provide alternative points of view, and even allow employees a period of time to rate and criticize management.


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