Conflict and competition arise when involved parties’ preferences and goals collide. This article highlights theoretical and empirical perspectives on the emergence and manifestations of conflicts. We outline how conflicts can occur from three perspectives: considering conflicts between individual actors, considering conflicts between individuals in competing groups, and considering conflicts between individuals within their groups. We show how individual-level preferences determine actions taken in dilemma situations in which outcomes are interdependent, leading to cooperative, selfish, or competitive behaviour. Further, we summarise key theoretical perspectives about the formation of conflict between groups, and highlight how individual behaviour contributes to such conflicts. We show how individuals may be at odds with other members of their group, experiencing conflict about their relationships and joint tasks. Finally, we outline how coalitions are formed when more than two parties face each other in conflicts. In sum, we consider the potential – both productive and detrimental – that conflict harbours for social exchange.