Four Stages of Conflict

by Jo Burns; Updated September 26, 2017
Some conflicts turn deadly.

In the multiple accepted models of conflict, the conflict process is broken into any number of stages. No matter how finely the process is dissected, one fact remains: conflict happens. Organizations and individuals can benefit from recognizing the basic stages of conflict because understanding the dynamic leads to easier and longer lasting resolution. The Education and Training Unit website warns that poor communication, lack of teamwork and differing perceptions may be signs that conflict is brewing in your home or office.


The first stage of conflict lies in the potential for conflict to exist. The conflict model presented by the website Beyond Intractibility refers to this stage as "latent conflict." This is the stage wherein groups or individuals recognize that a diversity in culture, religion or language, differing personal habits or a lack of resources may cause conflict if people are not sensitive to each other's needs.


Open conflict occurs when words or actions trigger an incident and conflict becomes real, expressed by raised voices, a breakdown of communication, expressions of anger and passive or active aggression. More people become involved the longer the conflict continues. Greater participation typically escalates the conflict.


A conflict is deescalated by negotiation. In the work place, a supervisor might pressure one group to cooperate with another and force the "enemies" into negotiations that will serve the higher good--remaining employed. In other cases, conflict becomes too costly to maintain and adversaries come to the conclusion that cooperation is in their mutual best interest.


Aftermath conflict is described as the post-resolution or peace-making period. The potential for conflict may still exist in the aftermath and can be even greater than before if one person or group perceives himself/itself as being a "looser" in the previous conflict.

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