Conflict, in general, builds through five stages - Discomfort, Incident, Misunderstanding, Tension and Crisis, although it can begin at any one of the first three stages. The earlier a conflict is identified and dealt with, the easier it is to resolve

Stage one is the Discomfort stage. At this stage there is nothing concrete to identify what has happened, but there is a vague intuitive feeling of that something is not working in the relationship between you and someone else. Trust this intuition, and ask yourself if there is something that you can do immediately to put the ‘wrongness’ right.

At the Incident stage, something minor happens which leaves you feeling irritated or upset. You may feel it “isn’t worth bothering about” or that yu are over-reactingso just let it lie. However, if ignored it may simmer at the back of your mind and other small incidents may be added to it.

Misunderstandings may arise from poor communication, lack of rapport, cultural differences, personality variations or when a situation raises a touchy issue for one or both of the parties. If someone doesn’t react the way you expect them to, to something you have said or done, questioning them about how they see the situation and explaining your view may head off a more serious conflict. Left alone misunderstandings may snowball until tension arises.

By the Tension stage everyone around the participants can sense that something is amiss. The people involved will probably try to enlist others to support them and partisan groups may start to form. The relationship becomes weighed down with negative feelings and neither party seems to be able to do anything to please the other, no matter how pleasant they are being.

Example:
There is tension beween Jane and Anne, which Anne would like to put right. Jane comes to work in a new outfit
Anne: “That looks really nice on you.”
Jane: “Are you trying to say I usually look awful?”
Anne: “You just can’t be nice to some people.”

At this stage both parties will have to act if the conflict is going to be resolved. One can make the approach and suggest that they need to take action, but unless the other person agrees it will be fruitless. If action is not taken at this stage crises will flare up.

By the Crisis stage the relationship will have totally broken down, and any semblance of normal behaviour between the parties will have disappeared. They may hurl insults at each other, resort to violence or show extremes of emotion. Whilst it may be possible to rebuild the relationship from scratch if both parties agree, this is an unlikely outcome since neither cares enough about it to want it rebuilt. Generally, at this stage, one party or the other leaves the relationship completely.

A conflict can move backwards through the stages if an incomplete resolution is reached. However unless completely resolved, if the conflict re-occurs the escalation will almost certainly be swifter as both parties are already carrying the baggage from the previous conflict.

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