This article throws light upon the three main types of conflict that occur in an organisation. The types are: 1. Individual Conflict 2. Interpersonal Conflict 3. Intergroup Conflict.

Type # 1. Individual Conflict:

Though generally conflict arises between two or more persons, it may also arise within an individual. This happens when a person cannot reconcile amongst his competing goals or when his behaviour is different from what is expected. There can be, thus, goal conflict and role conflict.

(a) Goal conflict:

When a person faces mutually competing goals amongst which he has to choose one, he often faces the conflict of which goal to choose.


This conflict can take three forms:

(i) Approach-approach conflict:

In this form, the individual has to choose from two or more equally attractive goals which are mutually exclusive. It means he can choose only one at the cost of another. As both the goals are attractive, conflict does not affect organisational performance in any way. If a person has to choose from two attractive job opportunities, whichever job he chooses, his contribution to organisational goals will be positive.

(ii) Approach-avoidance conflict:


In this form of conflict, the person faces an alternative which has both positive and negative consequences. If he gets a job at the place he does not like, he faces both positive and negative consequences of the alternative and the conflict may affect his job performance.

(iii) Avoidance-avoidance conflict:

In this form of conflict, the person faces two mutually exclusive goals both of which he does not like. This conflict usually remains unresolved till a better option is found. If a person does not like his present job and also the new job, he is not attracted by both the goals and, thus, conflict continues at intrapersonal level.

Goal conflict usually clashes individual goals with organisational goals. While approach-approach conflict does not affect organisational goals, the other two approaches affect organisational performance. Managers should, therefore, resolve goal conflict by integrating individual goals with organisational goals.


(b) Role conflict:

Role is an expected set of behaviour that a person exhibits by virtue of his position. He may perform formal role as prescribed by his job description and delegated authority or informal role derived out of his informal activities. Role conflict arises when role exhibited by a person is different from his anticipated role. Performing one role means rejecting the others. He cannot satisfy all the expectations of his role.

Role conflict arises because of the following reasons:

(i) When a person is not clear about the role of his job, that is, what he has to perform on his job, role conflict arises. Responsibilities of the job should be clear so that the person knows expectations of his role. Whether a salesman has to increase sales by selling high volume to existing clients or make more clients even if sales do not increase will result in role conflict.


(ii) Role conflict arises when there is confusion over expectations of organisational positions. If a person is expected to perform different roles from the same position, he will not be clear of which role to perform. Supervisor, for example, can be a member of the management team, or workers’ group or a middleman between management and workers. His actual role not being clear out of his supervisory position, there will arise role conflict.

(iii) Personal characteristics of a person can also lead to role conflict. People with higher order needs or emotionally-sensitive people are more prone to role conflict because of personal involvement with their jobs. Role conflict reflects low job efficiency and, therefore, managers should clearly define the jobs and authority-responsibility structures so that people are clear of their jobs and role conflict gets reduced.

Type # 2. Interpersonal Conflict:

When conflict arises amongst people of different levels or functional areas, it is called interpersonal conflict.

It arises on account of the following reasons:


(a) If people interacting with each other have different ego states, that is, they think and behave differently, there may be crossed transactions amongst them. Lack of complementary transactions leads to interpersonal conflict.

(b) When people with different value systems interact with each other, they react differently to the same situation. They inter-pert the same information differently and work in different ways. This gives rise to interpersonal conflict.

(c) When people from diverse backgrounds work in the same organisation, they may develop interpersonal conflicts. This happens when they belong to different castes, religion, nation etc. They think differently and, therefore, behave differently and conflicts may arise.

(d) When organisational situations force people to see things differently, they may think of personal interests rather than organisational interests. Since people have different interests, their behaviour will be different which may lead to interpersonal conflict. For example, the duty of quality control inspector is to check the output and find deviations on comparison with standards. Continuous checking and pinpointing deviations to employees can result in conflict between the workers and the quality control inspector. Though not intentional, this conflict arises because they are officially placed in conflicting situations.


Types of Interpersonal Conflict:

Interpersonal conflict can be:

(i) Vertical conflict and

(ii) Horizontal conflict.


(i) Vertical conflict:

When conflict arises amongst superiors and subordinates in the chain of command or hierarchy, it is said to be vertical conflict. Subordinates resist controls or change and, therefore, do not always behave the way superiors want. Their goals may clash with organisational goals, their interests may clash with superiors’ interests, they may not conform to rules and procedures, giving rise to conflicts.

Differences between superiors and subordinates leads to conflicts and organisational inefficiency. Subordinates should, therefore, support the superiors, cooperate with them and reduce inefficiencies by reducing conflicts with them.

(ii) Horizontal conflict:

When people at the same level in the same functional area or different functional areas interact with each other, they share skills, resources and information which may not lead to desired outcomes. This can lead to clash of interests and interpersonal conflicts.

Type # 3. Intergroup Conflict:

When conflict arises amongst different groups in the organisation, it results in intergroup conflict. When groups interact with each other and differ in their opinions and thinking, conflict arises amongst them.


The following factors affect intergroup conflict:

(a) When two groups have different goals, conflict may arise. Both the groups work to accomplish their goals at the cost of others. Labour-management groups, for example, have different goals. Labour wants more wages and management wants more profits. Both, therefore, form unions which promote interest of their group members.

(b) When two groups share common resources, they struggle for them and conflicts may arise because of discrepancy between demand and supply of resources. In a matrix organisation, for example, functional managers and project managers compete for common resources and conflict may arise amongst them. If there are a number of projects, even the project managers share the resources and if the resources are insufficient, conflicts may arise.

(c) If one group depends upon another for completion of the task, their interdependence may become a source of conflict if one group does not complete its work on time or the work or advise of that group is not acceptable to the other. In line and staff relationships, for example, if staff advice is not acceptable to line managers, conflict may arise between the two groups.

(d) When two groups hold different attitudes, values and beliefs, they strongly work to promote their group interests. Promoting group interest may result in conflict amongst different groups.

(e) If organisational decisions are jointly made by different groups and these groups have different sources of information or different ways of processing the information, they may not be able to arrive at consensus of opinion. Conflict may arise in their opinion about decisions and decision-making may become difficult.