Conflict is a normal part of life – and business. Whether you work with a close team of like-minded people or a diverse group of individuals, sooner or later a conflict may arise. Whether it’s with colleagues, partners or customers, it’s important to know when a conflict is taking place. In a business setting, it’s critical to remain professional, courteous and calm during the conflict so you can ensure you come to a resolution that best serves the goals of your organization.
The four stages of conflict are the latest stage, perceived stage, felt stage and manifest stage. There's also an aftermath stage. The impact of this depends on how you have dealt with the other four stages.
The Conflict Process
There are a number of different ways of describing the stages of conflict. However, there are four common stages, plus a fifth that describes the result of the conflict itself. The four stages of conflict are the latent stage, perceived stage, felt stage and manifest stage. The stage that describes what happens after the conflict is over is called the aftermath stage.
During the latent conflict stage, the parties involved don't realize there's a conflict brewing. In this stage, the conflict hasn't yet started, but there's a potential for it to start. Depending on the emotions of the people involved, the latent stage can quickly escalate into actual conflict.
If your business sells custom knit socks and you get an order ready for a client, you could potentially enter the latent stage of conflict if you accidentally use a different color than the one the client requested. At this stage, however, both you and the client wouldn't be aware of that potential.
The phases of conflict build on one another. After the latent stage comes the perceived stage, where one or both parties in the conflict become aware that it's happening. Once both parties are aware of the issue, it’s important to take the time to clarify what went wrong and why others are upset about it.
In the case of the small business owner that makes custom knit socks, they may become aware of their mistake when they check the customer’s order details. If they've already mailed out the order, then they'd know that the customer will be aware of the conflict once they open their package and realize that the colors are incorrect. It’s important to speak with the customer about this issue so both parties are aware of the problem and can work together to correct it.
During this stage of conflict, stress and anxiety are felt by the people involved. The small business owner may be worried about what will happen when the customer finds out they accidentally used the wrong colors. The customer may be stressed when they realize they received the wrong order.
At this stage, it’s time to openly discuss the conflict since everyone is aware of the issue. It’s best to talk to the other party as clearly and openly as possible while trying to keep emotions in check. The most important part of this stage is to listen to the other side.
The business owner may choose to call the customer directly and inform them of the error on their part. In this case, a phone call might be more personal than an email. In some cases, the conflict can also manifest in an in-person meeting. During the phone call, the business owner may explain that they used the wrong color, but that they'll work with the customer to correct the issue. The business owner can offer the customer a full refund on their order or send them a new one with the correct colors.
Post-Conflict Aftermath Stage
After the four stages of conflict comes the aftermath stage, which describes what happens as a result of the conflict. The business owner may aim to be more careful when preparing custom orders to ensure that such mistakes don’t happen again. The customer may feel satisfied with the way the conflict was handled by the business owner and view it as a positive experience overall.