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Where does conflict come from? We like to think it comes from other people; certainly not from ourselves! But conflict is like a collision; in fact, the word means "to strike together." We bump up against people or situations that appear to be antagonistic to us. Conflict is virtually inevitable, but that doesn't mean it must be negative. When we can understand where conflict comes from, we can map out more effective strategies for resolving it.

Conflict springs from a variety of sources:

Communication Misunderstandings

Like the gift of fire, man's gift of communication also has its downside. With communication comes the risk of misunderstandings. These arise when:
  • Different perceptions of the situation exist.
  • A lack of information.
  • Ambiguity.
  • Assumptions.
  • Misinformation.
  • Different values are at stake.

Perhaps we're not getting enough information or the right information. It's vague; we piece together what we do have and arrive at erroneous conclusions. We are great at filling in gaps without even being aware we are doing it.


What we need and what we want are not necessarily the same as the person next to us; everyone has different needs and conflict often arises when people have:
  • Needs and interests that seem incompatible.
  • Different styles, approaches, and preferences.
  • Different emotional needs or styles (great new book on emotional style is The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Dr. Richard Davidson).
  • Different values - these need not be mutually exclusive.


These can be related to your culture, religious beliefs, upbringing, and your own personal code or morals. Drastically opposing beliefs, ethics, philosophies, and views of the world can lead to conflict on both micro and macro levels. Often simply understanding the different values underlying someone's perceptions is enough to resolve the dispute so long as both can respect the difference in value. Different values may not be incompatible if both parties are aware of them and can demonstrate respect.


Sometimes things just get in the way of a smooth ride and life throws up some roadblocks that can cause conflict. These factors may include:
  • Ineffective processes.
  • Time constraints.
  • Inappropriate (e.g. Lack of privacy).
  • Dysfunction in the organization.
  • Social structures.


Everyone can relate to this one! "No man is an island".  We all have relationships of one kind or another. This means we all have ample opportunity to encounter conflict - and hopefully resolve it successfully. Conflict can spark when there are:
  • Unmet or unspoken expectations.
  • Hidden agendas or ulterior motives.
  • Distorted perceptions.
  • Stereotypes of others or ourselves.
  • Imbalances of power.
  • The personal history between the two (or more) parties.

Conflict can arise out of any of these sources, and usually a combination of them. That's the problem with problems: they're often very slippery and hard to get a handle on. When we can get to the root, though, we can begin to see with clarity.

Contributed by John Curtis, Attorney and Conflict Coach


Larry Hart

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