Interpersonal Conflict in Communication

In every form and context of communication, conflict is unavoidable. Conflict may arise from differing viewpoints, values, and beliefs. It may also result from a carelessly worded or disconfirming message. It may be overt or covert, managed well or poorly, destructive or constructive, and is influenced by culture. The following principles and features of interpersonal conflict are explained below (Wood, 2008).

Conflict may be overt or covert.

Overt conflict happens when two individuals openly express their disagreement towards each other. Verbal arguments concerning circumstances such as money and time, or differences in ideas, behavior and way of thinking are examples of overt conflict. For example, two groupmates who had a shouting match over a ruined class project now experience overt conflict. Covert conflict occurs when two people choose to suppress their feelings of resentment which leads to expressions of anger in surprising or unreasonable forms. For instance, in a class activity, someone who harbors ill will towards another classmate may refuse to be in the same group as that classmate. Covert conflicts are more difficult to resolve as both parties refuse to acknowledge the conflict and disclose the reasons for their behavior.

Conflict is a process.

Clyde Feldman and Carl Ridley (2000) identified the four components of conflict as conflicts of interest or the differing opinions and interests which constitute a conflict, conflict orientations or an individual’s attitude towards conflict, conflict responses or the behaviors or approaches to conflict that will determine its resolution, and conflict outcomes, which includes the processes of resolving the conflict and the effects of the conflict on the relationship.

Conflict reflects culture.

One’s way of thinking and approaches to a conflict is influenced by his or her upbringing, life scripts, and cultural background. For instance, conservative Asian cultures tend to frown upon the act of acknowledging or expressing conflicts (Gangwish, in Wood, 2008).

Conflict may be constructive.

A conflict can either be constructive or destructive. Conflicts are constructive when they provide an opportunity for improvement (e.g., conflicts of circumstance or conflicts of interest). Disagreements may open doors to resolve issues and improve relationships. On the other hand, a conflict is considered destructive when it ruins relationships.