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Intergroup conflict

Social psychology, specifically the discontinuity effect of inter-

group conflict, suggests that "groups are generally even more
competitive and aggressive than individuals".

Two main sources of intergroup conflict have been identified:

"competition for valued material resources, according to realistic
conflict theory, or for social rewards like respect and
described by relative deprivation theory"

Group conflict can easily enter an escalating spiral of hostility

marked by polarisation of views into black and white, with
comparable actions viewed in diametrically opposite ways: "we
offer concessions, but they attempt to lure us with ploys.

We are steadfast and courageous, but they are unyielding,

irrational, stubborn, and blinded by ideology".

It is widely believed that intergroup and intragroup hostility are (at

least to some degree) inversely related: that "there is, unhappily,
an inverse relationship between external wars and internal strife".

Thus "in politics, for example, everyone can get an extraordinarily

comforting feeling of mutual support from their group by focussing
on an enemy".

Each of the perspectives toward small groups that is described in

Chapter 1 has its own definition of "conflict." Rather than
attempting to cover all these definitions (see Fink, 1968, for a
review), we will focus on the definition created by Morton Deutsch

Deutsch was a student of Lewin and an important contributor to

our knowledge of conflict. His concept of conflict, using the
relational perspective, is the most relevant definition for this book.

As Chapter 3 explained, Lewin's field theory concerns the ways in

which "forces" move the "self" around its "life-space." Deutsch felt
that two people are interdependent when each can affect the
other's life-space and the field of forces within it.

In Chapter 1, we saw the difference between cooperative

situations and competitive situations. We can now restate that
difference using the terminology of field theory. Imagine that
Person A and Person B both attempt to reach goals in their
individual life-spaces.

Cooperation and competition are relevant when A and B, in trying

to reach their own goals, can affect each other's progress. In
cooperative situations, if one reaches his or her goal, the other is
more likely to reach his or hers. In competitive situations, if one
reaches his or her own goal, the other is less likely to reach his or
hers. Harold and Leonard are playing Frisbee.
The goal is to throw and catch the Frisbee 50 times in a row
without it dropping to the ground. Each can reach his goal only if
the other does.

This is a cooperative situation. In contrast, Amy and Lisa are

playing chess. The goal of each is to win the game. Each can
reach her goal only if the other does not. This is a competitive

Conflict can occur in both competitive and cooperative situations.

To show this, let us review the matrix game presented in the
description of Deutsch's relational definition for "group" in Chapter
1. Two people play the matrix game. Each must choose between
two possible moves: "Yes" and "No." After both move each
receives a certain number of points, which depends both on their
own move and on the other's move.


One of the most prominent reasons for intergroup conflict is

simply the nature of the group. Other reasons may be work
interdependence, goal variances, differences in perceptions, and
the increased demand for specialists.

Also, individual members of a group often play a role in the

initiation of group conflict. Any given group embodies various
qualities, values, or unique traits that are created, followed, and
even defended.
These clans can then distinguish "us" from "them." Members who
violate important aspects of the group, and especially outsiders,
who offend these ideals in some way, normally receive some type
of corrective or defensive response.

Relationships between groups often reflect the opinions they hold

of each other's characteristics. When groups share some
interests and their directions seem parallel, each group may view
the other positively; however, if the activities and goals of groups
differ, they may view each other in a negative manner.


Intergroup conflict causes changes to occur, both within the

groups in conflict and between them. Within the groups, members
will usually overlook individual differences in an effort to unite
against the other side, and with this concerted effort the focus is
on the task.

The group can become more efficient and effective at what they
do, and members can become more loyal, closely following group
norms. Problems can occur, however, when the group loses focus
of the organization's goals and becomes closed off from other

Haughtiness and isolation quickly lead to decreased

communication. Communication is the key between groups in
reciprocal interdependence, and these have the highest negative
consequences for lack of effective communication.
Miscommunication can be the death knell of any organization.

There are numerous choices available to circumvent conflict, to

keep it from becoming damaging, and to resolve conflict that is
more serious.

These include simple avoidance where possible, problem solving,

changing certain variables in the workplace, and in-house
alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs. Any resolution
method should depend on why the conflict occurred, the
seriousness of the conflict, and the type.

A face-to-face meeting, as in problem solving, can be very

effective in conflicts of misunderstanding or language barriers.
The groups can discuss issues and relevant information, with or
without a facilitator, to reach resolution.

Where groups have differing goals, it may be prudent to establish

some type of goal that can only be reached when the conflicting
groups work together.

A superordinate goal not only helps alleviate conflict, it focuses

more on performance, which is what the organization needs to

A downside to this option is the identification of a common enemy

of the conflicting groups, who must come together to prevail.
Eventually, the solidarity crumbles and groups begin to again turn
against each other.
Another stopgap solution to conflict is simply avoiding it. Although
this does not resolve the problem, it can help get a group through
a period of time, in which those involved may become more
objective, or a greater, more immediate goal would have been

Along those lines, another solution is smoothing the groups by

focusing on common interests and de-emphasizing the
differences between them.

Any collaborative process intended to address and manage

intergroup conflict should have objectives to encourage it.
Address cultural differences and power imbalances

Build accountability and organizational commitment.

Make this a consensus process.

Produce early measurable results.

Link decision making and implementation.

Promote good communication and listening skills.

Conflicts within or between groups can be destructive or

constructive, depending on how the conflict is handled.

When an organization is creating a dispute resolution process,

there are key factors to success:
1. A critical mass of individuals who are committed to the

2. A leadership group who perceive it in their best interest and

the best interests of the people they serve;

3. Strategic cooperation among historical enemies;


1. Fear of losing power;

2. Unwillingness to negotiate;

3. No perceived benefit;
Responsible measures to reduce barriers and encourage a true
paradigm shift are training, incentives, marketing, periodic review,
case studies, and top management support and participation.

Facilitators trained in mediation and other forms of ADR are a

necessary resource from outside or within the organization.


Group conflict, or hostilities between different groups, is a feature

common to all forms of human social organization (e.g., sports
teams, ethnic groups, nations, religions, gangs), and also occurs
in social animals. Although group conflict is one of the most
complex phenomena studied by social scientists, the history of
the human race evidences a series of group-level conflicts that
have gained notoriety over the years. For example, from 1820 to
1945, it has been estimated that at least 59 million persons were
killed during conflicts between groups of one type or another.
Literature suggests that the number of fatalities nearly doubled
between the years 1914 to 1964 as a result of further group


Through an extensive literature review, Roy J. Eidelson and Judy

I. Eidelson, identified parallels between individuals and the

collective world views of groups on the basis of five key belief

Superiority: At an individual level, this belief revolves around a

person's enduring conviction that he or she is better than other
people in important ways.

At the group level, superiority includes shared convictions of

moral superiority, entitlement, being the chosen and having a
special destiny.

Being chosen, the belief that one's own group has a superior
cultural heritage (e.g., history, values, language, tradition) is
common among groups who base their identity on their ethnicity.

The development of Hitler's ideology of Aryans as a "master" race

is one example of this belief.
This belief can be unconscious, with group members unaware
"The power and influence of such a worldview are directly related
to its operation as an invisible veil, which makes it difficult for
individuals, groups, and institutions to see their harmful

These authors noted that several committees studying racism

were using the term ethnocentric monoculturalism to describe this
belief in the superiority of your own group's cultural heritage
(including history, values, language, traditions, arts and crafts,
etc.) over that of other groups.

As part of this belief system they also noted a corresponding

belief in the inferiority of all other group's heritage, the ability to
impose their standards and beliefs on less powerful groups.
Evidence of the group's core beliefs and values in their practices,
programs and policies as well as in the institutions and structures
of the group's society, and that they were able to operate outside
the level of conscious awareness.

Injustice: At the individual level, this belief revolves around

perceived mistreatment by others, and/or the world at large.

At the group level, this translates to a world view that the ingroup
has significant and legitimate grievances against an outgroup.

This belief is seen as contributing greatly to the impetus for war

over the past two centuries, as the majority of wars in that time
period have centered on issues of justice rather than security or
power (Welch, 1993).

Injustice, in a group setting, can be based on the shared belief

that their group has not achieved desired outcomes due to the
actions or inactions of a more powerful group that has created a
biased or undesirable outcome, and not due to the inadequacies
or actions of the group itself.

Volkan termed the phrase Chosen Traumas to refer to the

"mental representation of an event that has caused a large group
to face drastic losses, feel helpless and victimized by another
group" that are distorted to perpetuate the injustice belief.



Lacan saw the roots of intra-group aggression in a regression to

the "narcissistic moment in the subject", highlighting "the
aggressivity involved in the effects of all regression, all arrested
development, all rejection of typical development in the subject".

Neville Symington also saw narcissism as a key element in group

conflict, singling out "organizations so riven by narcissistic
currents that...little creative work was done".

Such settings provide an opening for "many egoistic instinct-

feelings - as the desire to dominate and humiliate your fellow, the
love of conflict.
Your courage and power against mine - the satisfaction of being
the object of jealousy, the pleasures derived from the exercise of
cunning, deceit and concealment".

Fischer (2012) distinguished between two forms of intragroup

conflict in organizations. In a "restorative" form, paranoid-schizoid
"splitting" can be transformed through scapegoating dynamics to
produce reparative ("depressive") intragroup relations.

In a contrasting "perverse" form, intragroup trauma causes

paranoid-schizoid functioning to fragment, resulting in an
intersubjective "entanglement" with sadomasochistic dynamics.

Nevertheless, for all their insights, psychologists have not been

able to evade the constraints of group conflict themselves: "Envy,
rivalry, power conflicts, the formation of small groups, resulting in
discord and intrigue, are a matter of course" in the psychoanalytic
world, for example, with institutions being "caught up in the
factionalism of the ...struggle between the ins and the outs".


When you think of the different types of conflict, you might

instantly think of the ones referred to in literature, especially in

They can be applied to real life, of course. However, there are

types of conflict which are easily identifiable in our contemporary
Before going any further, let us first give a brief description of
what conflict is. There are actually a lot of ways to define conflict
due to how it is used in many areas.

Hence, to keep it simple for the layman, conflict pertains to the

opposing ideas and actions of different entities, thus resulting in
an antagonistic state. Conflict is an inevitable part of life.

Each of us possesses our own opinions, ideas and sets of beliefs.

We have our own ways of looking at things and we act according
to what we think is proper.

Hence, we often find ourselves in conflict in different scenarios;

may it involve other individuals, groups of people, or a struggle
within our own selves. Consequently, conflict influences our
actions and decisions in one way or another.


Intragroup conflict is a type of conflict that happens among

individuals within a team. The incompatibilities and
misunderstandings among these individuals lead to an intragroup

It is arises from interpersonal disagreements (e.g. team members

have different personalities which may lead to tension) or
differences in views and ideas (e.g. in a presentation, members of
the team might find the notions presented by the one presiding to
be erroneous due to their differences in opinion).
Within a team, conflict can be helpful in coming up with decisions
which will eventually allow them to reach their objectives as a

However, if the degree of conflict disrupts harmony among the

members, then some serious guidance from a different party will
be needed for it to be settled.


Intergroup conflict takes place when a misunderstanding arises

among different teams within an organization. For instance, the
sales department of an organization can come in conflict with the
customer support department.

This is due to the varied sets of goals and interests of these

different groups. In addition, competition also contributes for
intergroup conflict to arise.

There are other factors which fuel this type of conflict. Some of
these factors may include a rivalry in resources or the boundaries
set by a group to others which establishes their own identity as a

Conflict may seem to be a problem to some, but this isnt how

conflict should be perceived. On the other hand, it is an
opportunity for growth and can be an effective means of opening
up among groups or individuals.
However, when conflict begins to draws back productivity and
gives way to more conflicts, then conflict management would be
needed to come up with a resolution.


Differences are inevitable when passionate people work together.

Eventually, after a team gets through an initial orientation with a
new task, members usually come to the realization that working
together to accomplish a common goal is tough work.

This occurs in the dissatisfaction stage of team development

when the team recognizes the discrepancy between what is
expected of them and the reality of getting it done.

As a leader its important to differentiate between the different

types of conflict teams experience and to have a plan for helping
the team move forward.

Here are four examples of team conflict and some advice on how
a leader can intervene properly from Dr. Eunice Parisi-Carew,
teams expert, and coauthor of the upcoming book, Collaboration
Begins With You.

Personality clashes

If personal styles are very different and causing conflict among

team members, a team leader might administer the DISC, MBTI,
or another behavioral assessment tool to help people better
understand each other and learn to work together.
These tools help people understand what the other person needs.
They can also provide a common frame of reference for dealing
with individual differences.

Power issues and personal agendas

Conflict that involves power issues, or strong personal agendas

must sometimes be dealt with also. The reality is that some
people just do not fit on a team and a leader needs to be willing to
remove them or offer them another role.

This doesnt happen often, but occasionally it is needed. The

good news is that once it is dealt with, the team usually takes a
leap forward.

This should be an option only when other attempts to work with

the person have failed.

Conflict can be healthy for a team when it is channeled properly.

The challenge for leaders is knowing how and when to intervene.