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Theories of Conflict Resolution

Relationship Conflict

In human services, relationship conflict arises from differences in style, negative emotional interactions, matters of taste, and personality among two or more individuals. In an organization, individuals are often thrown together with no intention of meeting in real life. To promote organizational goals, it is a must for them to get along. Therefore, it is no surprise that relationship conflict would arise in the organization. Relationship conflict is a moreover a personal issue and not work-related; therefore, they are most challenging to diffuse and fix in an organization (Barsky, 2017). However, if they are not resolved early, they affect the overall work performance, trust, productivity, and employee job commitment. There are two types of theories that are useful in analyzing relationship conflict in human services: needs theory and attribution theory.

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Need Theory

Need theory is sometimes called learned needs theory or three need theory. The theory was projected by psychologist David McClelland, who thought that particular needs of people are attained with time and get prepared with one’s experience of life (Rybnicek et al., 2019). McClelland describes the key elements of the needs theory are power need, affiliation need, and achievement need. These three types of motivation, McClelland asserts that they are present in an individual regardless of culture, race, sex, and age and affect their actions and behavior.

Need for Power

Power refers to the capacity to impact the behavior of others. Individuals with high needs for power pursue top positions in an association to exercise control and influence over others. Individuals with this need can cause relationship conflict because, generally, they are demanding, forceful, and like getting engaged in conversations (Rybnicek et al., 2019). A person inspired by this need appreciates status gratitude, wins opinions, and impacts others. As a result, it entails a relentless need for improved own status. However, power needs can positively assist in accomplishing group goals and helping others feel a sense of competence regarding their work.

Need for Affiliation

Individuals with high levels of this type of need prefer spending time developing and maintaining social relationships, having the desire to feel accepted and loved by others, and enjoying being part of a group. Since individuals are societal animals, they like networking and being with others where they are recognized. In addition, individuals with this need try to endorse cultural customs of the workroom without altering them for fear of denial (Rybnicek et al., 2019). These people prefer collaboration to competition and do not like the circumstance with high uncertainties and thus, are based in social interaction areas.

Need for Achievement

People with this need are more content or driven by promotional positions in the human service hierarchy and their work achievement than physical rewards. McClelland established that some people have a strong desire to succeed and are categorized by taking reasonable risks, looking for instant responses, setting goals, and ensuring they are done effectively. The compelling motivation of employees is an essential and challenging duty for organization management as it requires diverse techniques and an understanding of the psychological processes involved.

Need theories are used to identify internal factors that motivate a person’s behavior based on a foundation that individuals are motivated by unfulfilled needs. Needs entail physiological or psychological insufficiencies that incite some behavioral responses, and it ranges from weak to firm depending on the place, time, and environmental factors (Barsky, 2017). Needs theory applies to conflict because conflict can mainly occur when an individual’s needs are compromised, threatened, and competed with others, more so for limited resources to meet those needs. An individual requires several essentials to survive beyond basic needs, including non-physical and physical elements and things that they are naturally driven to achieve (Rybnicek et al., 2019). These basic needs motivate persons to take action when they are not met, resulting in conflict.

Attribution Theory

The theory involves how the social percipient employs information to reach underlying elucidations for actions and behavior. Fritz Heider first proposed the theory in the 20th century, who introduced the locus of causality perceived concept to denote an individual perception of the environment, which Bernard Weiner and Harold Kelley later advanced (Martinko, 2018). Attribution theory looks at how individuals make sense of their world and the cause-and-effect interventions they make regarding the behaviors of others and themselves. The major influential ideologies of Heider were situational and dispositional attributions.

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Dispositional attribution entailed assigning the basis of behavior to some inner traits of an individual and not external forces. When one explains the behavior of other persons, they tend to look for lasting internal attributions like personality traits, beliefs, and motives. On the other hand, situational attribution allows the source of behavior to some settings or actions with external control of a person and not inside behaviors.

Attribution aims to attain perceptive control over an individual’s world by explaining and comprehending the reasons behind environmental and behavioral incidences. Creating attributions permits one to cope, giving a sense of predictability and order (Martinko, 2018). Attribution theory presumes that people are inspired to recognize the cause of explicit actions and their setting. If people can comprehend these causals, they are then well placed to control or impact the order of forthcoming actions. Individuals are naïve scientists attempting to comprehend causal determinants of behavior of others and theirs.

The core effect on how people act in the way they comprehend their surrounding actions. Individuals accept responsibilities when they feel in control of their happenings than when it is out of hand. Attribution theory can aid in understanding the conflict in organizations due to its intention to elucidate how behavior is ascertained by internal or external forces, like abilities and luck, respectively. Since attribution is a perceived determinant that influences behavior, employees’ perceptions can make them behave and act differently in an organization.

Therefore, attribution theory is integral in an organization because it assists leaders in understanding the causes of workers’ behavior and their thinking pertaining own behavior. As posited by Barsky (2017), understanding the behavior of oneself and those around helps avoid conflict as the perception of causes of particular behavior influences actions, judgment, and motivation.

In conclusion, needs theory defines critical inspiration aspects that influence the behavior and actions of an individual in an organization, thereby impacting conflict. When analyzing conflict using needs theory, it is essential first to identify drivers and structure approaches. Needs theory suffers from limitations such that the need and satisfaction of needs is a psychological thing, and an individual might not be aware of their needs.

As a result, it is difficult for leaders to understand the needs of their staff. Secondly, there is no direct cause and effect relationship between behavior and need since one specific need can cause myriad types of behavior in different people. Alternatively, the specific behavior of an individual can be associated with different needs. In human services, contrary to McClelland’s needs, physiological and safety needs are paramount to an individual. Based on attribution theory, it is depicted that an individual tries to explain the causes of behavior while trying to understand the reason for the actions taken by self and others. Attributing causes of behaviors in an individual gives a sense of control over own behaviors and associated circumstances.


Barsky, E. A. (2017). Conflict resolution for the helping professions: Negotiation, mediation, advocacy, facilitation, and restorative justice. Oxford University Press.

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Martinko, M. J. (2018). The nature and function of attribution theory within the organizational sciences. In Attribution Theory (pp. 7-14). Routledge.

Rybnicek, R., Bergner, S., & Gutschelhofer, A. (2019). How individual needs influence motivation effects: A neuroscientific study on McClelland’s need theory. Review of Managerial Science, 13(2), 443-482.

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