Skip to main content Skip to main content

What is Conflict

There are numerous definitions, or descriptions of conflict.  Most people will tell you that they cannot define it, but in the famous words of Mr. Justice Potter Steward, "they know it when they see it".  Here are some examples of “conflict” described or defined;[1]

[1] From the Dictionary of Conflict Resolution, Douglas H. Yarn, Editor, Jossey-Bass, 114f, 1999

“Conflicts involve struggles between two or more people over values, or competition for status, power or scarce resources.”

“A situation in which authority or power is being exercised without sanction or approval by those over whom it is being exercised.”

“A conflict arises when two or more people or groups endeavor to pursue goals which are mutually inconsistent.”

A funny short video about conflict with Robin Williams and the Two-Headed Monster. 

What does conflict look like?

Conflict could look like many things from a little disagreement between two people to the extreme, war.  Although it is an oversimplification of the way conflict happens, one could say that when conflict arises, it is because of failed communications. 

When we want something, we express this as a “need” or "interest".  “Needs” are often expressed as something basic to life and is long lasting. Interest are more transitory and superficial in nature.  Robin Williams wanted the Two-Headed Monster to have conflict but did not explain to them that they could not “resolve” the conflict.  In communicating his “need,” he gave incomplete and inadequate instructions.

What could Robin Williams have done to make his real interests clear to the Two-Headed Monster? This piece also shows that with good intentions all around, conflict can spontaneously ignite between parties trying to do the right thing.  Why?  Communications relating to interests and needs were simply not communicated well or understood. 

University Resources