Conflicts: An Introduction

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Conflict is an important issue in education: Conflicts are part of social life and of a group, with which the group must learn to live - different views, values, needs. And in a more genral way: One feature of a democratic culture is constructive handling of social conflicts - taking sides, transforming conflict situations that endanger democracy, creating solidarity across social differences, or even changing power.

Since competition about scarce goods, different interests, demands, goals, identities, values or norms are part of modern societies, conflicts are an everyday part of our life.

Conflict has its positive and negative sides, depending on various factors. Of course, conflicts are often uncomfortable and one is sometimes well advised not to let them get bigger or even to avoid them. However, dealing constructively with conflict can imply, not always trying to even them but also to perceive them as a potential resource, to work with them. Sometimes conflicts help us to understand needs of other persons better, to create fairness and peace, or to support people who advocate for conflicting causes or who are drawn into conflict.

In this sense, despite work with conflicts can in different ways contribute to positive relations. [1] Facilitators use conflict management to improve the quality and efficiency of communication in a group, to maintain a democratic learning culture where rights and needs of all are equally respected, and to help learners expand conflict management skills.

Personal Constellations

Interpersonal conflict

The conflict between two individuals. People are different from one another. We all have different personalities which usually results to incompatible wishes, interests and choices.

Intrapersonal conflict

A psychological conflict concerning thoughts, values, principles and feelings of the individual. Perhaps inner discord, perhaps the conflict stems from the individual's relationship with his environment.

Intragroup conflict

Occurs among individuals within a group. It can arise from different personalties, views, working styles.

Intergroup conflict

A conflict among different groups. [2]

Conflicts and their Sources

Moore [3] suggests five general causes. These often overlap.

Conflicts within a relationship

  • Affecting the position and interaction of the involved parties to each other

Informational conflicts

  • Characterized by varying interpretations or different access to information.

Interest conflicts

Occurs when one party has to or wants to represent different, conflicting interests.

Structural conflicts

Refer to structures in our environment and society that act on the conflicting parties. In example, unequal distribution of power or resources, permanent obstacles like geographical distance or unequal access to information or public resources. They can be solved on societal level.

Value conflicts

Differing attitudes and values of the conflicting parties lead to different understanding of how ethical or desirable indivdiual and collective actions and thinking or social conditions and statuses are.

Latent and Manifest Conflicts

Conflicts between partner organizations, participants and trainers may be obvious manifest and hidden latent conflicts.


When there is the conflict but is not clear who has the conflict with whom or what is the concrete conflict source.


It is obvious there is a conflict. It is clear who is 8n conflict with whom.

Acting in a Conflict - between Fight and Avoidance

There a different options how to behave in a conflict between escape and fighting for the own position[4]. The most opportunities for conflict management unfold in between the two, in the spectre which we call here "Flow". It spans up between negotiation, civilized but lively controversy, result-open collaboration...


  • One has to win, one to loose.
  • Or: I win - you loose.


  • One party leaves, the other party gets what they want.
  • Or: You win.


  • Between win-win and sharing losses.
  • Or: We solve the issue together.

Inspiring Handbooks and Sources from the Community


  1. W. Zartmann: Conflict Resolution and Negotiation, in: Bercovitch, Jacob et al.2009: Los Angeles; T. Bonacker, P. Imbusch: Begriffe der Friedens- und Konfliktforschung: Konflikt, Gewalt, Krieg, Frieden, in: Peter Imbusch/Ralf Zoll (eds.): Friedens- und Konfliktforschung. Eine Einführung mit Quellen, Wiesbaden (5th edition)
  2. Types of Conflict: Four Classifications, last download on 11.11.2015
  3. Moore, Christopher W.: The Mediation Process. Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, San Francisco 1996
  4. Conflict Resolution Network CRN: CR Trainers Manual - 12 Skills; 1. The Win/Win Approach; available on