Types of Interpersonal Conflict

Most of the serious conflicts in your life probably involve people you are closely connected to, such as your friends and family, your romantic partners and the people you work with. If a conflict isn't resolved or is allowed to escalate too far, it can damage the relationship. If you can handle the conflict successfully, you can make your relationship with the other person stronger and more resilient by improving your understanding of each other.

Couple arguing over table. (Image: Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Pseudoconflicts and Real Arguments

Conflict happens when two people want different things and can neither come to an agreement nor get what they want without the other person. For example, if you want to go out for Japanese food while your friend wants to go out for Italian food, you can't both get what you want and still go out to dinner together. According to Wayne Weiten and Margaret Lloyd, the authors of "Psychology Applied to Modern Life," seemingly trivial issues like this are frequently "pseudoconflicts," minor disagreements that mask a deeper conflict in the relationship, functioning as an invitation to have an argument about the underlying issues.

Policy Conflicts

Policy conflicts are disagreements about how to deal with a situation that affects both parties. For instance, you may have strong feelings about the best way to get a project completed at work, while your coworker may feel just as strongly that it should be handled another way. Or you may want to set aside a certain amount of your household income for savings, but your partner wants to spend a little more on entertainment. This type of conflict can have a winner and a loser, but according to Pearson's "Interpersonal Communication Book," it is more effective to find a win-win solution, in which both parties compromise on less essential matters to get their most important concerns addressed

Value Conflicts

No two people have the exact same set of personal values. According to the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado, it can be easy to assume the other person is just being stubborn or wrongheaded about a situation, when the real explanation is that you have a difference of underlying values. For example, you may believe saving money and planning for the future is an important value, while your partner believes it is more important to enjoy your life in the present. Conflicts about values can be very difficult to resolve, because neither party will compromise. Sometimes the best option is to simply agree to disagree.

Ego Conflicts

In an ego conflict, losing the argument would damage the person's sense of self-esteem. For instance, if you want to go out to a different movie than your friend, this would ordinarily be an easy issue to resolve. However, if you feel like your friend always gets to pick the movie you see together, you might feel that giving in would make you the less powerful partner in the relationship. To avoid feeling powerless or taken advantage of, you might escalate the conflict further than the situation would seem to warrant. According to psychologist Elaine Shpungin, the best way to handle this type of issue is to confront the underlying conflict directly and try to get it resolved.

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