Conflict Resolution

Drivers of Conflict

The Marrian Conflict Resolution Center (2014) describes conflict as a form of discord, disagreement or friction arising within a group when the actions or beliefs of one or more members are resisted by or unacceptable to one or more of another/same group. It occurs when people with divergent needs and goals clash and often results in intense personal animosity between the parties involved. However, it is understood to be as a result of instrumentally rational reasoning in most standard models of decision-making. Rational individuals are assumed to engage in conflict to accomplish selective goals that are perceived as being limited to the participants. However, the ideas and techniques depend on the cause or type of conflict in perspective. Conflict management implemented within a business setup will typically revolve around good negotiating skills, problem-solving skills, and effective communication to help restore the focus to the group’s overall objective (Phillips, 2001). To this end, the paper aims to identify the physiological and psychological drivers of conflict and how they can escalate to a crisis.

Physiological Drivers of Conflict

It is posited that conflicts stem from people’s characteristics, as struggles emanate from clashes between rational individual. Oberschall (2010) established that some personality characteristics can result in conflict. For instance, he found that persons with the type-A personality tends to possess a higher likelihood of engaging in conflict than Type-B people: Based on Type A and B Personality Theory. Further, conflicts are bound to occur where people fail to recognize or accept the fundamental differences in people’s personality. A worker could, for instance, have a straightforward personality that makes them speak out even if the timing is not appropriate. The behavior may offend those bearing an oppossing personality and result in arguments, which could escalate into a conflict. Turning to personal values, Bomers & Peterson (2013) found that people, origination from different societies, value conflict differently. While people in the western world perceive conflict to be part of life, those in Japan or Korea feel that conflict is bad and should be avoided. Where a person’s goal is to engage in competition or a skirmish with one another, then it is believed that such a goal will ultimately generate conflict. Anger and stress are also emotional sources of conflict. For example, stress has been noted to create a tense feeling or anger and frustration in people, which boils over into generating conflict between individuals. Anger and frustration can also result in breaking up a relationship (Oberschall, 2010). The aspect is evident where the resulting actions leads to the souring of relations.

Psychological Drivers of Conflict

Perceptions: Perceptions are formed by interactions between people or groups of people over time. Since individuals do have competing goals, they are expected to generate stress, anger, and negative emotions: In turn, store up wrong perceptions of their competitors. According to the realist school of international relations theory, conflict arises when there is a shift in power and the display of comparative might (Oberschall, 2010). In a psychological sense, it denotes people’s awareness of power, which is important, but not the actual ownership of power. Power is most perceived in political, economic or military terms. Conflict will most likely erupt or escalate when the terms are thought to be zero-sum, that is, where one’s loss is another person’s gain. However, options for conflict management can be greatly augmented where the perception and terms of conflict can be moved from zero-sum to positive-sum.

Identity: Identity describes the traditions, practices, beliefs, and norms with which people utilize to engage in their environment (Danesh, 2012). Self-perception often underlies the idea of identity and has been noted to be a critical component of the social-psychological analysis. Conceptions of one’s identity do influence the process of conflicts, though identity is overlooked when researchers try to examine the causes of the conflict environment (Danesh, 2012).

History/previous interactions: Patterns of interaction develop over time between individuals or groups. Repeated experience results in the establishment and solidification of perceptions and beliefs of self and others (Danesh, 2012). One party is viewed as a threat where the history shared between two people or groups is competitive, either over power or resources. Where there is domination of one party over the other, then there is little basis for trust or cooperation. As negative history builds up, individuals and societies mobilize against their opponents and aptly define themselves according to their opposition (Danesh, 2012). Continuing threats or conflicts result in the formation of vested interests, expressed in various aspects of opposition, defense and war. Each of the interests becomes a critical aspect of the conflict dynamic, as ending the conflict effectively threatens their existence (Oberschall, 2010).  


As seen above, conflict occurs due to both physiological and physiological factors. Physiologically, a conflict will stem from differences in people’s characteristics and personalities. The conflict drivers escalate to a crisis when people fail to recognize or accept the fundamental differences in people’s personality. Stress was also seen to cause tense feelings or anger and frustration in people that roll over into the generation of conflict. Psychologically, human perceptions and identity cause conflicts between people or groups of people. Competing goals among individuals do generate stress, anger, and negative emotions and in turn, store up wrong perceptions of their competitors. Conceptions of one’s identity also influence the process of conflicts, though identity is overlooked when researchers try to examine the causes of conflict. In addition, the negative history between individuals and societies was seen to be a cause for bitter relationships and constant conflicts.


Bomers, G. B., & Peterson, R. B. (2013). Conflict management and industrial relations. Berlin, BER: Springer Science & Business Media.

Danesh, H. B. (2012). Human needs theory, conflict, and peace. The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology. New Jersey, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Marrian Conflict Resolution Center. (2014). Conflict and peace. Available at [accessed: December 20, 2017]

Oberschall, A. (2010). Conflict theory. In Handbook of Politics (pp. 177-193). New York, NY: Springer. Phillips, B. A. (2001). The mediation field guide: Transcending litigation and resolving conflicts in your business or organization. New Jersey, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

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