What Is Role Conflict?

Role conflict is essentially a discrepancy between differing expectations of a role. If two people have different expectations for what the other's proper role should be, then role conflict is likely to ensue.
The Basis Behind Role Conflict
Role conflict comes from the way we see each other on a daily basis, and what role we assign to one another within the context of work, family life and interpersonal relationships.
An Example
For example, we may see a father as a provider, protector and stern disciplinarian. If he were to venture into the kitchen and proceed to cook, we might feel that he is acting inappropriately for his role.
Societal Roles and Biases
People often suffer from role conflict, not just when they try to take on roles society does not consider suitable, but also when they try to overcome their own biases and prejudices regarding what certain types of people can do or not do.
Role Reversals
Another role conflict comes from a person's own particular sense of his or her proper role. A pilot, for instance, might feel uneasy at being a passenger; a doctor might feel uncomfortable as a patient.
Critiques of Role Conflict
It may be argued that roles themselves have always been highly fluid, and that because they are rarely rigidly defined, the attribution of conflict to roles may be misplaced. There may be other, more important factors at work in conflict, such as ego, temperament and ingrained bias--not about roles, but about the other in general.
Interpersonal Communication; Peter Hartley; 1999