As social animals, human beings are involved in a complex system of relationships, and wherever there are human relationships, there is the potential for conflict. The Foundation Coalition states on its website that we are involved in an average of five conflicts per day. National conflicts can result in war, work and team conflicts can result in failure, and interpersonal conflicts can result in unhappiness. Whether the conflict is international, workplace or interpersonal, it has five basic causes: values, misunderstanding, personalities, goals and needs.
Values can be looked at in two different ways and both are potential sources of conflict. Each of us value different things. For instance, you might value a boat above a washing machine while your spouse is the opposite. One nation might value rice above oil, while another places more value on oil. An inability to reconcile these differing preferences is a common source of conflict.
We also have different values. Valentin Turchin in his Principia Cybernetica website article, “Science and Human Values," defines human values as what we appreciate, what we want to have or what we want to achieve. Examples might be peace, truth, love of God, patriotism and freedom. When two people or groups have values that are at odds, conflict is inevitable.
Failure to communicate, failure to listen or misinterpretation of what someone says is a common source of conflict. Our perception of other people or groups is at least as important and often more important than reality when it comes to our relationship with them. Left unrecognized and uncorrected, misunderstanding between parties is a major source of conflict.
Certain personality types are incompatible in some situations. For instance, a group or team needs only one leader at a time, and when there are two or more aggressive, ambitious individuals, the group can be subjected to constant leadership challenges. If two people who are inherently stubborn disagree, the resolution of their conflict will be made more difficult by their stubbornness. The old adage that opposites attract has its roots in conflicts between similar personality types.
Incompatible goals of the parties in a relationship is a source of conflict as much in the geopolitical world as in our interpersonal relationship with friends and families. If, for instance, one nation or religion has as a goal the establishment of a worldwide government or religion, it is likely to conflict with any other nation or religion it shares the planet with. Another example could be a husband whose goal is to have children while his wife’s goal is to remain childless.
Needs are the basic reason that relationships are formed. If individuals have needs that they cannot meet themselves, they turn to others and a relationship is formed. One common cause of conflict is one member of a relationship interfering with or failing to meet another member’s needs.
Needs, like values, can be looked at in two different ways. Our needs can be concrete. A nation might need things like food, energy, raw materials, etc. An individual might need food, shelter, clothing, etc. But besides our concrete needs, our emotional needs are at least as important in terms of causes of conflict, especially in interpersonal relationships. The failure of one party to meet a need for love or fulfillment of another party will cause a serious conflict.