Conflict: Definition, Sources & Types

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  • 0:03 What Is Conflict?
  • 1:27 Types of Conflict
  • 3:33 Sources of Conflict
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Expert Contributor
Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

Conflict is all around us, and some might even say that conflict makes the world go around. This lesson explains the types of conflict and gives examples of the main types and sources of conflict.

What Is Conflict?

Wouldn't the world be a better place if all the conflict was gone? While we may think this is a great thought on the surface, let's think about what causes conflict and what can happen after a resolution is found. Think back to your favorite movie or book. Was there conflict in it?

Yes, there was. The basic recipe for a story plot is: Introduce your characters, discover conflict, resolve conflict, farewell your characters. Obviously, for stories that do not have a happy ending, the resolution of conflict portion changes. This plot progression is true of shows aimed at the youngest of audiences (for example, the bear wants honey out of the tree but has to trick the bees in order to get it).

Conflict is simply differing ideas or actions, often related to the selfish pursuit of needs (known and unknown) that end in a state of unrest. It is a necessary and permanent part of life. The important thing to remember is that conflict is natural. It can be a slight conflict that causes no harm or an egregious conflict that results in irreparable damage.

Conflict itself is neither good nor bad. When conflict is addressed maturely with an eye to a positive resolution it can, in most cases, lead to growth among all the conflicting parties. There are four main types of conflict, and they stem from many sources. This lesson reviews the major types and sources of conflict and offers examples of each.

Types of Conflict

When looking for the source of a conflict, it's important to remember that the different types of conflict reflect where the conflict originates (internally or externally) and the number of people involved (personal or group).

The prefix inter- relates to external origination. You can remember this by the 'e' in 'inter-' and 'external.' The prefix intra- relates to internal origination.

Interpersonal Conflict

Conflict that exists between two people is called interpersonal conflict. The conflict is external to each person (hence the 'inter-' prefix) and exists only between the two people. Interpersonal conflict can be seen any time two people disagree on a topic. We see it in people as young as toddlers when they fight over a single toy and as old as two nursing home patients when they argue over politics. Because we have different likes and dislikes, enjoy different things, and view the world from different perspectives, interpersonal conflicts are bound to happen.

Intrapersonal Conflict

Remembering that the prefix 'intra-' means originating internally, you can see that intrapersonal conflict is when you feel conflicted about your own thoughts or actions. Maybe you've always told people they should help the homeless and then, when you see a homeless person on the street, you become afraid and turn away. The disconnect between your words and actions may cause internal turmoil. Intrapersonal conflict is always a psychological battle for the person experiencing it. While intrapersonal conflict can be difficult, its resolution results in a stronger understanding of yourself.

Intergroup Conflict

'Inter-' means external and 'group' means sets of multiple things, so intergroup conflict relates to conflicts that happen between solidified groups of people. This type of conflict happens constantly during any heated political campaign. It isn't just the two candidates in conflict, but individuals who strongly identify with one or the other may be involved in the clash of ideas and ideology.

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Additional Activities

Conflicts in Current Events

For this activity students will be reviewing current events to identify the type and source of the conflict.

Begin by collecting several current events articles or videos. These should be things that your students will be able to read or watch in about three minutes each. As a class, review the first current events source. Then, guide students in determining if the conflict is interpersonal, intrapersonal, intergroup or intragroup. Have students explain their reasoning. Then, have students find the source of the conflict. As described in the lesson, this is most often over relationships, power, communication, or change.

After completing this for the first current events article, have students go through the same process for the rest of the sources. For each, students should record the conflict type and source.

If completed in a group setting, have students talk about what they determined for each article and have them explain their reasoning.

Finally, have students write a short (about one paragraph) reflection about conflict in the world today. There reflection can be based on the following questions:

  • What type of conflict is most common in the world today? Why do you think this is?
  • Is there a common source of conflict? If so, what?
  • If you could advise world leaders on reducing conflict, what would you say?

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