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Know These Five Causes of Conflict

Boxer with boxing gloves

I’ve been thinking a lot about conflict and ways of dealing with various types of conflict.

Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional. – Max Lucade

Conflict seems to be everywhere these days.

Conflicts between nations that can lead to wars.

Conflict between people which can lead to one fatally harming another.

Conflict between team members at work.

Conflict between family members and within relationships.

It seems like every day we come across instances of conflict. But, what causes conflict?

These are the main 5 causes of conflict.

Recognizing these causes is the first step in dealing with conflict situations.

1. Differing values can lead to conflicts.

When people have differing values, conflicts can result. If one of your personal values in life is that your family comes first, and if your boss’ personal value is that work comes first, conflict can be the result when they ask you to stay late at work or to give up a planned family vacation due to project deadlines.

2. Making assumptions can lead to conflicts.

If the husband assumes that his wife will have a hot meal waiting for him when he gets home from work (after all he works so hard at bringing home the bacon) and when that hot meal is not ready, conflict between the husband and wife can result.

When one person assumes anything about another person, well you know the saying about when you assume anything (that it makes an ASS out of U and ME). If the wife assumes her husband will remember their anniversary every year (how can he forget the most important date in their relationship, after all?) a conflict can result when the husband not only doesn’t make special plans to celebrate the day but doesn’t even remember that it is their anniversary.

3. Differing expectations can lead to conflict.

We expect people to know things without us telling them. What do you mean they can’t read our minds? Well, they should be able to, isn’t that obvious? Well, no. A lot of things are not obvious to many people.

Having differing expectations of people, such as expecting the single person in the office to work during the Christmas vacation while those married people with children expect to have the vacation time to spend with their family.Isn’t it obvious that those with children have the special holidays and March break off each year? Uhm, no, it isn’t obvious.

Just because that may be your expectation, doesn’t mean that it’s the expectation of other people. No wonder there is so much resentment and conflict at work, if you have that kind of expectation.

4. Differences in the way you were brought up can result in conflict.

The way that you were brought up, your religion, your gender, your race, and your ethnicity can result in conflict with people who are different than you.

If you are a woman born in the 1930’s and who grew up during the Great Depression, someone who was grew up during in the free-loving 1970’s may have a conflict with you regarding marriage and its vows.

Also, how many of us remember the Cold War and grew up believing  that a nuclear war was inevitable? How can we relate that fear to today’s youth who have no concept of what it was to live during those times?

We see this all the time between men and women, too. We say that a man can act aggressive at work, but the same actions by a woman are viewed as her being a bitch. Gender can play a major role in conflicts.

5. Knowledge and ability to deal with conflict can result in conflict.

If you don’t know how to resolve conflict or are unwilling to try to resolve conflict, this in itself can conflict with someone else who has more knowledge and is more willing than you are. If two nations are unwilling to resolve their differences, they are bound to keep that conflict alive for future generations. We see this in the news every day. Neither side is willing to give an inch to the other side and so the conflict continues.

Now that we know the 5 main causes of conflict, what can we do to resolve conflict?

Conflicts may be the sources of defeat, lost life and a limitation of our potentiality but they may also lead to greater depth of living and the birth of more far-reaching unities, which flourish in the tensions that engender them. – Karl Jaspers 

There are 5 main conflict resolution scenarios.

1. Ignore the conflict.

If you have a tendency to avoid or postpone talking about the conflict, you are trying to ignore it and hope it goes away. This rarely works with serious conflicts. If you want to leave a relationship because of the conflict, that’s your choice. But, putting your head in the sand and not dealing with the problem means that you will not learn from the experience either. What you fail to learn, you are bound to repeat in other relationships.

2. Smooth over the conflict.

Do you try to accommodate the other person and suppress your desires? Smoothing over any conflict just to avoid confrontation or dealing with both sides of the argument can also result in a temporary reprieve. The conflict may still be there, but resentment is also underlying as one person has given up their values in order to smooth over the conflict. 

3. Use your authority to settle the conflict.

This is the way that it’s going to be because I said so!  Parents say this all the time to their children when they want them to go to bed and the child wants to stay up and watch TV.

Isn’t this the boss’ favourite way, too? After all, they’re the boss and they have authority over you. Right? Yes? No? How does it make you feel when someone has perceived authority over you and tells you the way it’s going to be?

4. Negotiate a resolution to the conflict.

Ah, I love a good negotiation. You get what you want and I get what I want. Most of the time this works out really well. But with all negotiation, I have to give up something and so do you. If you want me to work this weekend, then I want more money. You may not want to pay me more money because it’s not in the project budget, but that’s what I want. If you don’t pay my rate, then you don’t get what you want. I want to make more money, so you have to give me something in return. Working on that cool upcoming project would be good, too.

5. Use collaboration to resolve the conflict.

This is your typical win-win scenario. Both parties win when they use collaboration.

But, collaboration only works when people trust each other to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. If you don’t trust the other person (and it doesn’t have to be blind trust, either) you won’t believe that they are coming to the table to put an end to the conflict between you.

However, if trust is there, this conflict resolution scenario can be the best way to resolve conflicts once and for all. When both parties come together, communicate, and trust each other a definitive resolution to their conflict can occur.

Now that you know the 5 main causes of conflict and 5 different conflict resolution scenarios, you are better equipped to recognize and deal with any conflicts that you have in your life.

Which conflict resolution scenario do you use the most? Let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

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35 comments… add one

  • Great write up once again Karen.

    This is a big one and I don’t think people give it enough attention. Conflict in both family life and business life can have a huge long term impact on the success of the relationship. Unfortunately there is never a cookie cutter solution and each situation requires its own approach.

    I think your 5 resolution scenarios sum it up though. I know that for me personally, negotiation does work but both parties have to feel like the gained/benefited in order to make it really resolve the situation.

    Good food for though for a Monday!
    .-= Justin Popovic´s last blog ..Work Expands to Fit the Time Allotted =-.

    • Hi Justin,

      I agree. Each person approaches conflict in different ways. The way you were brought up (i.e. to avoid confrontation or to be beligerent and aggressive with others) can affect how you approach others during conflicts.

      Negotiation can work in certain situations, but as you suggest, both parties have to feel that they won, otherwise there will be resentment and bad feelings will resurface.

      Thanks for dropping by,

    • It is very good to know these five causes of conflict because we are living in a world full of conflicts. This can help us to avoid or be informed of daily causes of conflict and how to manage it.

  • Hey Karen,

    I’d go for points 4 and 5. And sometimes I have to go for point numero 3. It just depends on the art of the conflict, and how much I energy I want to use to solve/end it. But the most valuable solution should always lead to a win-win, because I want to enrich the world with my existence.
    .-= Mars Dorian´s last blog ..Why YOU should be delusional ! =-.

    • Hey Mars,

      It looks like you have the right attitude when approaching any conflicts. The win-win approach means that the conflict will not resurface if both parties trust the other to be dealing fairly.

      I’m wondering when you use your authority to solve conflicts. Is that at work, I hope?


      • them ansa nyah right or wah Karen?

  • Karen,

    Five simple steps to understanding where conflict arises and five more to help resolve it. Following them you wonder why there is a need for conflict but then again we live in a world of differing personalities which makes the world such an exciting place to live, lots of challenges and colourful personalities.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


    .-= Paul´s last blog ..Flexibility is the name of the game =-.

    • Hi Paul,

      Yeah, with so many people and so many differing personalities, conflict is a natural result. I hope that reading the causes of conflict and some of the resolution methods, we can recognize when we are going into personal conflicts. Recognizing conflicts and its causes is one step towards solving them.

      Thanks for stopping by,

  • Hi Karen,
    Great post. I was reading your second cause of conflict: ‘Making assumptions can lead to conflicts’ made me think about something I learnt as an economist, in an earlier part of my career, where I learnt that forecasts are what they are ‘forecasts’ and are, as such, not inherently wrong only a forecast of what could happen based on a set of assumptions. Therefore, if one disagrees with the forecast the thing to do is to question the assumptions. It’s the only way that we can get to the underlying understanding of someone else’s view.

    .-= Adrian Swinscoe´s last blog ..Teams and birds: lessons from nature =-.

    • Hi Adrian,

      Ah, yes, forecasts. Funny how each economic report and security or market outlook always have the disclaimer about past performance not necessarily equaling future performance. We all make assumptions though that forecasts and past performance are cast in stone and want to believe what we are told. Conflict arises when you have bought into those forecasts, despite the disclaimers. I agree that all assumptions should be questioned as there are too many variables involved.

      Thanks for the sharing,

  • I have been learning a lot about culture and business in school and it is really interesting. I think it is really important to simply take into consideration who this person is, where they come from, their values,etc, before even beginning the conflict. I like your tips a lot Karen. I think people are often too stubborn to recognize and solve conflict, but hopefully this will help those people move away from the dark side.
    .-= Alex´s last blog ..The Virtue of Obsession =-.

    • Hi Alex,

      Yes, your background and the way you were brought up can have a major impact on how you deal with others and your approach to conflicts. I’m the youngest of six kids and have a tendency to avoid personal conflicts. I can’t stand anyone yelling at me, whereas if you grew up where that was a normal way to have conflicts, you may bring that attitude into your adult life. No wonder there are so many conflicts around when there are so many different causes. People are unique and so are the personal conflicts.

      Yes, I would agree that stubborness plays a role, too. We can become invested in our position, even though the other side is reasonable. Hopefully, we can learn to resolve the conflcts in a win-win way.


  • Conflicts can cause tremendous damage if we don’t take steps to understand its source and pacify its effects. The main cause you have stated here are the facts most people are blind of, it is for this reason that conflict arises. Unless we allow ourselves to see the obvious, we will always commit this error. :-)

    • Hi Walter,

      Yes, I agree that gaining the knowledge about what causes conflicts and the different resolution methods may result in less conflicts and more harmony. We can become blind to what’s obvious so I hope people can learn from this article and have less conflicts in their lives.


    • Walter, i like your comments. thank you.

  • I think this is all sumed up into COMMUNICATION right? if we cannot communication properly no matter who it is, then was create more than conflict. awesome job.

    • Welcome butterfly,

      Yes! Communication is the key, but sometimes you have to be in a position to really hear and *understand* the other person’s point of view. For instance, if I grew up in an atmosphere where it was normal to be boisterous and talk loudly, that may not work for someone who is an only child and who grew up in the atmosphere where “children are seen, but not heard”. They could have conflicts when dealing with someone who doesn’t think twice about yelling or speaking loudly to get their point across. It’s very complex, which is why there are a lot of conflicts in the world :-)

      Hopefully, we can increase both our communication skills and our knowledge regarding the causes and solutions to conflicts.

      Thanks for stopping by,

  • What a great post Karen

    Conflict is all around us. No matter how hard we try to avoid it we will always come up against conflict. I think communication is important but perfect communication doesn’t remove conflict.

    I’d add in internal conflict here too I think. The internal conflict we feel in ourselves sometimes is something we need to address as much as external conflicts.
    .-= Ben´s last blog ..7 Things I have learnt about life from being a Martial Artist. =-.

    • Hi Ben,

      Conflict is all around us, which is why I wrote the article and hope that people can recognize the causes and some of the resolution methods for it. We can’t seem to get away from conflict in our lives, but we can hopefully lessen the impact. I agree that communication is very important and is also definitely a learned skill.

      You bring up a good point on internal conflicts, Ben. Not knowing what we stand for or believe in can cause us to have conflicts with other external forces.


  • Thanks for recommending this post Karen. In my case, negotation is usually what I opt to do when having a conflict with someone. I think if we choose this option, we have to be ready for some long discussion as it is often hard to find something both sides can agree upon. But if an agreement can be found, it’s really worth it.
    .-= Julius´s last blog ..Learning About Web Accessibility Through Everyday Tasks =-.

    • Hi Julius,

      The issue with negotiation is that if one person is a better negotiator they will usually get more from the other person. That leaves resentment. I think you have to approach negotiation knowing exactly what you want out of it and don’t back down from that stance. You also have to go into a negotiation knowing that you’ll probably have to give something up. Knowing what that is can be very hard sometimes. But, I agree that it can be a very successful method of resolving conflicts.


  • Having varying opinions is a proof of our uniqueness and how we see the same things from a different perspective.

    Conflict however should be managed. it s a good servant but a very bad master.
    .-= Olusegun´s last blog ..I’m back – Rising from the Ashes like a Phoenix =-.

    • Hi Olusegun,

      Yes, we all have our own unique perspectives on life and sometimes that can bias when we are dealing with others. It’s definitely something to take into consideration.

      Thanks for dropping by,

  • The blantant true is that conflict is inevitable due to the complexity of our society.Nevertheless, the five causes and proposed solutions can really mitigates them. On a geographical stand point, uneven distribution of natural resources on both micro and macro scales, population pressure, and geopolitical situation of communities , countries and nation, are indispensible to conflict. Nothwithstanding, an indepth applications of the 5 proposed solutions will curb dowm conflicts at all levels


  • Thanks to this brief, i needed it for a group discussion.

  • 1, 4 and 5 are methods i might use to resolve conflict.

  • Hi, Karen, i love your work for it exposed all to be known in conflict. Well, the five management strategies serves it because causes of conflicts differs and each serves all this angles it rise from. But you would have exposed some of the effects so that people should see it negativeness.

  • hey Karen what you are ding about conflict is really great I learn a lot on how to resolve

  • thank you for the good answer that you provide here and its clear and you make us understand well…

  • thanks for the comment , i know understand better

  • Sorry, actually i want to know that where did you get all of this information?? I need to get the original sources of this one or any books that you did a research on this ? Thank you.

  • i think i agree with you.

  • thank you, I, think have got it but for sure I, have a lot of challenges

  • Hi! Karen
    I just wanted to know how values, perceptions, gender, assumptions and interest each could contribute to a conflict


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