Conflicts will grow over time if unaddressed.Friedrich Glasl published a conflict escalation model in the 90s that include nine levels.
Before you read these, please put yourself in the mindset of a conflict you have, or are, experiencing or have witnessed. I think you will be amazed how real the words become.
Stage 1: Tension – This is the starting point, when there are occasional clashes of opinion, however, the tension can still be dissipated through discussion.
Stage 2: Debate – Black and white thinking starts to become evident and parties try to convince each other of their arguments.
Stage 3: Actions Replace Words – Discussions break down and the view of the other party becomes more of a competitor with actions as necessary responses to the other person’s behavior.
Stage 5: Loss of Face – Trust is gone and the personal attacks and denigration begin.
Stage 6: Threat Strategies – Threats and counter threats are made to demonstrate power and superiority.
Stage 7: Limited Destructive Blows -The other person loses human qualities and it becomes easier to try to damage your “opponent” through targeted attacks.
Stage 8: Total Annihilation – Attacks intensify to seek and destroy.
Stage 9: Together into the Abyss – The concern for self preservation is abandoned in favor of annihilation of the enemy. There is no return. It’s like being sucked into a hole.
So, what does all of this mean to conflict resolution?
It pretty clear that the higher the conflict rises in these stages, the fewer and fewer alternatives for resolution seem available. So, the sooner you are aware that the conflict is escalating, the more opportunity there is to step back and take action.
You can’t control what the other person is doing, however, you can certainly intervene in your own behavior to avoid tumbling into the abyss yourself.