What Causes Conflict in a Group?

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Many seeds of conflict are already planted as a group assembles.
Many seeds of conflict are already planted as a group assembles. (Image: NA/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Group leaders of any kind -- from sports team managers to office professionals -- need to be aware of conflict, which can manifest within a group environment in a variety of ways. If not handled correctly, conflict can severely stunt a group’s efforts and can also galvanise a group into a better performance. Key to handling conflict is an understanding of where it originates from in a group environment.

Needs Not Met

The individuals in a group all have needs, many of which will be set in their minds as they enter the group situation. These are the things each person wants to get out of the group situation, and conflict can arise if an individual feel her needs are being compromised, dismissed or ignored. Essentially, each individual wants her needs to be fulfilled to be validated as a member of the group.

Clashes of Background

In a group, all members will have come from different backgrounds and possibly different cultures, too. The background of an individual can affect how he reacts to others and, in some cases, may make a person feel threatened by or prejudiced towards another member of the group. Group members should also be aware of the rise of an "us and them" attitude within the group, in which part of the group separates itself from another by using language and behavior relating to a shared background.

Status

A group is a potential hotbed for conflict based around the varying statuses held by individuals. For example, a person elected team leader may inspire in others envy, especially if other individuals felt that they had more right to lead the group. Individuals with a higher status may be offended at the prospect of working on equal footing with those lower down in the hierarchy, too.

Different Beliefs

In a group scenario, each member will have their own beliefs, techniques and philosophies with regard to the project the group is engaged with. While these beliefs can coincide or may differ but ultimately lead to greater productivity, clashes between individuals who wish to approach the project differently may lead to the group’s activity grinding to a halt.

Team Issues

Once a group situation gets underway, conflict can arise if an individual or group of people become concerned about how others are acting. For example, in a workplace scenario, an individual may feel she is doing more work than others. In another example, a person might have an issue with his role and feel unclear with regards to the direction given to him by the group leader.

Fear

A sense of fear can be a major trigger for conflicts within groups. Fear arises when people become concerned about the future. For example, a group member in an office might worry he’ll be fired if the group’s project fails. This could lead to conflict, as the employee’s fear of failure causes him to act in certain ways.

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