Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Misaligned Goals

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Misaligned Goals

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities


  • One character wants to have a baby while her partner doesn’t
  • One character wants to get married while the partner doesn’t
  • One character wants to right a wrong while the other seeks to maintain the status quo
  • One character seeks growth and improvement while the other just wants to coast
  • The protagonist is romantically interested in someone who doesn’t feel the same way
  • Business executives who have different goals for their company
  • One business partner has altruistic goals while the other is only out for profit
  • Acquaintances enter into conversation with different goals (one wants to be heard and affirmed while the other wants to dominate the exchange)
  • A parent wants to protect or control a child who is pursuing autonomy
  • One teen pursues a friendship because she wants to develop a relationship while the other person only does so to access an asset

Minor Complications:
Tension in the relationship
Making assumptions about the other person based on their goals (they don’t want kids so they must be selfish, their assertive business tactics mean they’re aggressive and domineering, etc.)
Misunderstandings delaying the decisions that would lead to improvements (forward-thinking business decisions, pursuing self-actualization, etc.)
Not recognizing the root problem (misaligned goals), and getting stuck in the conflict

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Avoiding the issue (to keep the peace), allowing it to fester and grow
The character pushing their agenda to the point of driving away the other person or damaging their own reputation
Being blocked by the other person from doing what’s right or best
Both parties digging in their heels, resulting in a stalemate
The character determining to get their own way regardless of what it takes
Being manipulated, undermined, or sabotaged by the other party to further their goal
The conflict turning personal and irrevocably damaging the relationship
The character backing down even though their goal was the correct one
The relationship being categorized by friction and conflict
Slipping into “roles” (the frugal executive, the selfish spouse, the controlling parent, etc.) that deepen tensions and stymie growth

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the party opposing the character’s goal, people who are close to the situation (co-workers, the boss, clients or customers, family members, friends, etc.)

Resulting Emotions: Anger, annoyance, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, confusion, contempt, defensiveness, determination, disappointment, disbelief, dissatisfaction, doubt, frustration, hurt, impatience, inadequate, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, irritation, powerlessness, reluctance, remorse, resentment, unappreciated, uncertainty

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Confrontational, controlling, greedy, gullible, indecisive, know-it-all, manipulative, melodramatic, oversensitive, paranoid, resentful, selfish, stubborn

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Growing frustration
Feeling personally slighted or invalidated
Resenting the other party
The character feeling limited or unable to reach their full potential when they can’t get what they feel they need
Wanting to be right rather than being open to a differing viewpoint
A crisis of confidence (if the character gave in despite their goal being the right one for the situation)
Being conflicted about the right path forward (seeing potential in both goals and not knowing which one is correct)

Positive Outcomes: 
Opening up to new or challenging ideas
Becoming teachable
Learning how to compromise in a healthy way
Recognizing what’s important and what doesn’t need to be fought over
Learning to give in (when the character is used to always getting their way)
Valuing people over plans or processes
Recognizing how the other party complements the character’s weaknesses (seeing them as an ally instead of the enemy)
Learning how to work with the other party and defuse conflict

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

This thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access the entire collection of descriptive thesauri, visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Traci Kenworth
9 months ago

A good one! Misaligned goals can do heavy damage to a relationship. Score: conflict!

Jan Sikes
Jan Sikes
9 months ago

Excellent source of conflict for our stories!! Thank you for sharing!

Patricia Hansen
Patricia Hansen
9 months ago

When will the Conflict Thesaurus be published for sale?
Kind regards

Patricia Hansen

9 months ago

Hi Patricia,

Thanks for your interest in this thesaurus. 🙂 Becca and I always test out a thesaurus idea here before choosing what we will turn into a book. If enough people ask for it, then that usually means we will work on it next. And regardless if we do or not, we also expand each thesaurus and add it to a permanent home at One Stop for Writers: