Conflict situations


A conflict is defined as a difference of opinions, or opposing interests, needs, aspirations, values, ways of working or feelings, which can result in tensions between two or more people. It marks the switch from a constructive expression of differences to incomprehension, intolerance and confrontation. It emerges when the people concerned have the impression that they are being prevented from living as they wish or satisfying  their own expectations, feelings or intentions.


Nonetheless, a conflict does not necessarily involve a violation of personal rights.


Categories of conflict

Two main categories of conflict are likely to arise at work:

  • Horizontal conflicts, i.e. between peers (e.g. between colleagues at the same level, or between students)
  • Vertical or diagonal conflicts, i.e. between people at different levels or where there is a power imbalance (for example, between a manager and a junior member of staff, or between a student and a teacher)


In the academic world, it is also possible to have a line manager who is responsible for you in administrative terms as well as your academic supervisor. In this case, the manager will be guiding and assessing the person’s academic work (for example, when they are preparing for their viva or writing an article) and at the same time acting as their line manager (for example, distributing work within the team or monitoring their working hours). It is therefore useful to be clear about the role the person is in when they are interacting, to minimise any misunderstandings.

Conflict resolution

Resolving conflicts involves examining the problem affecting each of the parties. We can identify three categories of conflict found frequently in the working environment:

  • Organisational conflicts: poor distribution of tasks, misunderstanding of roles and responsibilities, a lack of clarity about the scope of an activity or project, etc.
  • Conflicts of interest: differences in personal or professional motivation, ambition, interests or objectives.
  • Conflicts of values: cultural differences, in terms of world view or value system.

Examples of conflicts

The following elements often come into play in conflicts:

  • A lack of communication
  • The feeling of being treated unfairly
  • Sympathy/antipathy
  • Power and influence
  • Mistrust
  • A lack of clarity around the work to submit
  • Over-ambitious, unachievable objectives

The elements that make up a conflict may be separate from each other. However, ignoring an organisational conflict in its early stages can gradually lead to more deep-seated conflicts, which touch on the interests or values of the people concerned. The more open the discussion and clarification as soon as the first warning signs appear, the more effective and constructive the resolution will be.

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