Conflict Escalation

The possibility of conflict escalation exists when someone expresses values, needs or interests that differ from the other person. How one person wants the interaction to end may also contribute to the conflict process, with one person's reason for creating the conflict entirely opposed to the other person's intentions.


Many human resource managers use the famous book Konfliktmanagement: Ein Handbuch für Führungskräfte, Beraterinnen und Berater (1997), by the author Freidrich Glasl, as a guide to keeping conflict in the workplace at a minimum. It outlines the stages preceding a build up of differences between two or more people as something called hardening and debates and polemics.


Hardening develops before conflict escalation because an issue or issues that frustrate at least one person involved in the interaction proves to be resistant to any kind of resolution. In other words, the longer the problem exists, the more irritated everyone becomes. As a result, opinions and intentions harden, growing more fixed and stubborn as disagreements fester and conflict management styles routinely practiced by people who are involved in the conflict escalation clash.

Debates and Polemics

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The debates and polemics stage flows out of the hardening stage when discussions have moved beyond simple disagreements and are now developing into heated interactions exaggerate the "wrongness" of the other person's views.

In addition, Glasl states that this is the stage where people will engage in psychological deceit to avoid being blamed for something that may be causing the conflict. Counselors who are trained to help married couples resolve different types of marriage conflict frequently discover when an argument has moved into the debates and polemics stage, one spouse is usually playing a game of emotional roulette with the other and causing most of the interpersonal conflict

For example, a husband who wants to spend every Friday and Saturday night with his buddies is creating conflict between him and his wife. His reasoning is that he spends five nights a week with her and only two nights with his friends.

The potential for conflict escalation emerges as the original argument rushes past the hardening stage and into the debate stage. Because a resolution to their original disagreement cannot be found, verbal interactions between the couple start to shift from ineffectual statements to emotionally charged words intended to hurt and bully the other.

What Happens When Conflicts Continue?

If a person who is involved in a verbal conflict does not engage in conflict avoidance and remains committed to the disagreement, the conflict will inevitably continue with the end resulting in a variety of conclusions. However, what usually occurs is that one person will simply decide to "give up" and submit to the demands of the other, causing him or her to experience sadness and anger, as well as loss of self-esteem to this type of "giving in" resolution.

Conflict Resolution Activities

While it is easy to talk about doing things like compromise and reconciliation in a conflict, successfully convincing those involved in a disagreement to adopt these ideas is another story altogether. Learning to use good communication skills in order to either avoid conflict escalation is vital to the psychological well-being of those involved in a conflict, as well as to the type of future relationships enjoyed by the individuals involved.

Many times one person is so concerned about winning the conflict that they no longer view you as a person. Instead, they now see you as simply an obstacle, a thing in the way of their needs. When you experience a conflict in which you think the other person is viewing you in this manner, try using an "I" statement to reaffirm yourself as a real person.

You could say, "I am feeling quite upset and unhappy at what is happening between us and I really don't want this to continue." Never blame the other person for making you upset by saying "You know, you have me so upset and mad" or "It's all your fault I feel so terrible". This will only increase the conflict and make it harder to find a resolution.

Empathy may help resolve certain types of conflict as well as "stroking,” or saying nice things to the person before conflict escalation takes place. A statement like "I really admire your courage for bringing this subject up with me" is a much better thing to say than "I think it is mean of you to bring this up right now.” Finally, try finding other ways instead of just one solution to the conflict and carefully evaluate the solutions to determine which one is best suited to resolve the issue.

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