Group Communication Theory Tension and Conflict Summary

In small group communication theory, there are several stages of tension which all groups must work through. These stages generally happen in a certain order but changes or conflicts in the group can lead to returning to earlier stages at any point.

Primary tension is the initial process whereby a group overcomes the initial uncertainty of getting to know one another and form internal expectations about other members of the group. This is the stage when the group talks about each other.

In contrast, secondary tension comes later. This is when the group tries to find consensus around how it will operate. Formal and informal roles are assigned. Power blocks form. Alliances and conflicts begin. This stage is when the group talks about how to talk about the work.

Once the group has achieved a critical mass of task cohesion, they can actually begin to do the work for which they have assembled. It is at this point that conflicts may arise. There are three main important types of conflicts:

  • Procedural conflicts are related to how the work is being done.
  • Substantive conflicts are related to differences in the values and beliefs of group members.
  • Interpersonal conflicts arise when individual group members have personal conflicts, often sharing content and purpose with the other two types of conflicts.