Home >> Basic Concepts >> Conflict

Conflict

Conflict is goal-oriented, just as cooperation and competition are, but, there is a difference, in conflict, one seeks deliberately to harm and/ or destroy one's antagonists. The rules of competition always include restrictions upon the injury that may be done to a foe. But in conflict these rules break down; one seeks to win at any cost. In talking about conflict, the notion of a continuum or scale is again useful. It is useful in at least two ways: in differentiating conflict from competition; and in differentiating personal form group and organizational conflict. If we have the data with which to do it, all rival situations probably could be ranged along a continuum defined at one end by pure competition and at the other end by pure conflict.

There might be a few situations that would be located near to each end of the continuum, but many would prove to be mixed types and would cluster near the centre. Conflict also tends to be more or less personal, just as is the case with cooperation and competition. First, fights and 'shoot-out' illustrate highly personal conflicts. The conflicts within football games generally are a little less personal, and the conflict between students and campus police at a sit-in or rally is personal. Yet, when two labor unions or two corporations set out to destroy each other, personal conflict may be almost completely submerged in organizational struggle. Perhaps the most impersonal of all conflicts is war between nations, where the enemy is perceived to be almost faceless. Again, rather than being discrete types of personal and impersonal conflicts, conflicts probably range almost imperceptibly along a continuum from the purely personal to the completely impersonal.

Probably the most striking thing about conflict is its destructive potential. The word 'conflict' itself often conjures up images of heads being broken, of buildings burning, and of deaths and destruction. Moreover, the destructiveness that accompanies conflicts quickly cumulates. In a confrontation between police and students, for example, things may be orderly until the first blow is struck. Once that happens, however, a frenzy of skull cracking, shootings, burning, and destroying may follow. Because the immediate results of conflict often are so horrible, there is a tendency to see it, not as a normal and universal process of social interaction, but as pathological process. It is very difficult for the unsophisticated not to imply value judgments in discussing these social processes because our society as a whole tends to do so. Cooperation and competition are more often perceived to be socially useful; but conflict, to be harmful.

The situation, however, it is not that simple. Few would defend the cooperation of a group of men in the rape of a woman. And the school drop-out problem is hardly a beneficial effect of competition. Thus, competition and cooperation, which otherwise receive a good deal of social approval, also have untoward effects. So it is, also with conflict. Conflict is an abnormal and universal form of social interaction as are any of the others. Analysis of conflict needs to describe both the ways in which it is harmful and destructive and the way in which it is useful and socially integrative

Harmful Effects of Conflict | Useful Functions of Conflict