What are some causes of interpersonal conflict?

Who does not know her? Whether it's a quarrel with an unlikable colleague or an unjust distribution of tasks - conflicts in the workplace often lead to unpleasant tensions. According to a survey by the market research institute Splendid Research, two thirds of people in Germany have regular conflicts with one or more people.

When evaluating and resolving conflicts in a targeted manner, it is therefore important to choose between different Types of conflict to distinguish. A well-founded assessment of the dispute helps to apply conflict management methods in a targeted manner and to ensure a better understanding.

How do I recognize a conflict?

Whether in the private or professional environment - who Conflicts recognizes early on, can usually eliminate them quickly.

Conflicts generally arise from:

  • Disagreements

  • misunderstandings

  • Wrongdoing of a person

The origin of the conflict is often subliminal. This means that initially no open dispute between the parties can be identified, but rather one subliminal tension is noticeable. Only in the further course does the conflict express itself in form verbal or even physical arguments.

Subliminal conflicts at work can often be recognized in their development phase by these characteristics:

  • Employees ignore each other and avoid each other.

  • Employees talk about other people behind closed doors.

  • The flow of information between employees is disrupted.

The phase model of the escalation by Friedrich Glasl sees the so-called "hardening" as the first initiation of a conflict. During this phase there are regular annoyances or an irritable mood between the parties. These then eventually turn into debates, arguments, and the various types of conflict.

Image: Conflict escalation according to Glasl, WikiCommons, Sampi, Glasl, 1994, p. 216, 218-219.

Which Types of conflict is there?

  1. Conflicts of matter
  2. Relationship conflicts
  3. Conflicts of perception
  4. Role conflicts
  5. Conflicting goals
  6. Distribution conflicts

The distinction between the different Types of conflict is very important. The goal is, to be able to resolve the conflict at an early stage. Every type of conflict is characterized by certain characteristics and therefore requires a suitable solution.

The different types of conflict with examples at a glance:

To the different Types of conflict To be able to understand, it is necessary to understand their origin and background:

1) Conflicts of matter

This type of conflict wears itself out on a very large scale factual and objective level because it is mostly a disagreement or general dissatisfaction. The conflict can usually be resolved quickly.


If a customer complains about the poor lifespan of a particular component, it's one Factual conflict. This can usually be remedied quickly by customer service offering a solution, such as replacing the component or reimbursing the costs.

However, the customer has a problem with the service employee on an interpersonal level, this problem cannot be eliminated with an objective solution. Rather, it is then a matter of uncovering the causes of the conflict and, if necessary, assigning another service employee to the customer.

2) relationship conflicts

Interpersonal problems cause relationship conflicts, which are usually particularly difficult to resolve. The reasons for these conflicts are personal dislikesthat are related to the way of working, the choice of words, the appearance or the character of a person.


The supervisor of a service employee does not like his choice of words and feels that they are “know-it-all”. He expresses his aversion to the employee by assigning him to look after particularly difficult customers.

The result: the employee feels Overwhelmed, there is a Relationship conflict.

3) Conflicts of perception

Perceptual respectively Valuation conflicts always arise when different attitudes lead to a different assessment of the situation.


A service employee interprets the customer's statement that he is "completely satisfied" with the service as very positive. He feels empowered in his way of working.

The supervisor, on the other hand, takes the statement as negative true and asks the employee to make improvements.

4) conflicting roles

In a company, the roles or positions of the various employees are always associated with one Expectation connected. If the employee does not fulfill this role or if he interprets his task differently, a Role conflict.


The supervisor asks the service employee to also take over the acquisition of new customers. However, the employee does not see this as his task and therefore only leads it very well listless out.

5) Conflicting goals

Conflicts of goals often arise between superiors and employees and are based on a different goal or goal Expectation.


While the boss's goals are primarily higher Efficiency, faster processes and a better service result, the employee provides the working conditions and work-life balance first. There arises a Conflict of goals.

6) Distribution conflicts

If employees perceive their salary, their working conditions or their tasks as unfair, distribution conflicts arise. These are strengthened when colleagues are better off.


Despite a better result and longer working hours, the less committed colleague receives a raise in salary. The other employee perceives this decision as not fair and a Distribution conflict.

Tips for quickly resolving conflicts

The basis for a quick and targeted conflict resolution is the correct assessment of which Type of conflict it is about. Once this has been identified, in many cases you can use the following strategies to resolve the conflict:

  • The conversation search with the opposite

  • The root cause analyze the conflict and evaluate the conflict objectively

  • understanding for the point of view and the feelings of the other person

  • Open and honest ownPoint of view rethink

  • Targeted Proposals for solutions and compromises work out

  • The help of one Mediators seek mediation between the conflicting parties

Not every conflict can be resolved

Analyzing the conflict and assigning a Type of conflict is of great importance in resolving the disagreement. Anyone who recognizes the causes of a conflict at an early stage has a good chance of resolving it.

However, not all conflicts can be resolved. In serious interpersonal conflicts, the relationship is often so severely disturbed that a constructive agreement between the parties is no longer possible.

Header image: wacomka / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Originally published April 30, 2020, updated April 30, 2020

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