5 Stages of Conflict and Workplace Conflict Resolution

humanresourcejdConflict exists everywhere.  In a world where population is skyrocketing and opinion is vast, there is no way to avoid conflict in your life. So what do we do? We learn to resolve conflict. The only way to resolve conflict is to, first, recognize conflict by understanding the stages of conflict. There are five stages of conflict and they can only be resolved by learning and understanding how to solve the issue. There are many courses that can help with conflict resolution.

These are the five stages of conflict:

In the “Latent Stage,” the first stage in the five stages of conflict, people may be in conflict without being aware that they are in conflict.  An example of this could be that a server at a restaurant may have inputted an order incorrectly and the food being made for a table is the wrong food.  The manager and table do not know this yet and conflict has not arisen yet.

The “Perceived Stage” is when the people involved in a conflict become fully aware that there is a conflict, so the table has now been made aware and complained to management.  Management will now go over to speak with the employee about it.

During the “Felt Stage” stress and anxiety are felt by one or more of the participants due to the conflict, the manager does not enjoy causing conflict and the employee does not enjoy being under scrutiny.

This will undoubtedly lead to the “Manifest Stage,” during which the conflict can be observed. The Manifest Stage can take a number of shapes including: e-mails, phone calls, phone messages, face-to-face meetings, or any situation in which the conflict could be observed.  When the manager pulls the employee aside to speak with him or her, others perceive the conflict and it has manifested.

The final stage is the “Aftermath Stage,” which takes place when there is some outcome of the conflict, such as a resolution to, or dissolution of, the problem.  When the manager corrects the mistake with the customer and takes appropriate steps to ensure the server is more careful in the future.

In short:

FIVE STAGES OF CONFLICT:

  • Latent Stage: Participants not yet aware of conflict
  • Perceived Stage: Participants aware a conflict exists
  • Felt Stage: Stress and anxiety
  • Manifest: Conflict is open and can be observed
  • Aftermath: Outcome of conflict, resolution or dissolution

Most of the time, recognizing and addressing issues that cause conflict will lead to a fast and effective resolution.  The problem lies in the fact that solutions are not always so easy.  When both parties feel they have been wronged and expect their demands to be met, then conflict can escalate.  Many places are melting pots of conflict.  The most prominent area of life that sees the five stages of conflict is the workplace.  In most cases neither party wants to be there in the first place and this time of heightened stress lends itself to conflict.  To understand more about workplace conflict and resolutions you can take classes in workplace conflict resolution.  It is important to understand conflict at a psychological level if one hopes to be able to resolve it quickly and effectively.  In most cases one party, usually the less fortunate, or aggrieved, party is aware of conflict early in the latency stage.  The more privileged party is often unaware that conflict exists because there are no adverse effects of conflict-starting events.  The existent added stress makes the latent stage dangerous because at times the other stages can reveal themselves all at once in a flurry of emotion and passion.  This is why it is important to recognize the signs of conflict as early as possible so that they may be addressed.  People must be Democratic and address their differences of opinion openly and without fear of misunderstandings.  If problems are not addressed then conflict can move from latent to “manifest”, “erupted”, or “emerging” stages of conflict.

Emergence occurs when latent conflict builds and builds until a triggering event occurs.  This triggering event, depending on how severe, causes an eruption which may end quickly or can last for a long time.  Now that conflict has emerged, either the conflict is resolved or it escalates until a stalemate is reached or someone concedes.

Escalation of conflict generally lasts a long time, but can also end quickly.  Once conflicts escalate for awhile, participants often reach a stalemate: a situation in which neither side can win, but neither side wants to back down or accept loss either. Stalemates emerge for a number of reasons: failed tactics, depletion of available resources to fuel the conflict, or a reduction in support of the conflict by one or more of those involved.  In other cases, the conflict has been latent for so long that the triggering event usually leads to a violent resolution.

At this point, it must be said, that negotiation has either been ignored or is not something either party understands.  To learn negotiation and techniques to resolve conflict you can learn from instructors who have been negotiating their whole lives.  Classes in negotiation are important for all people who intend to rise into the ranks of management.  With a better knowledge of negotiation and negotiation skills you can grasp the promotion you strive for as well as forge strong relationships at the workplace.  Eventually, conflicts reach a point at which a sort of equilibrium sets in, in which neither side is getting any closer to achieving its goals and which no one is happy with the situation. They come to realize that the costs of continuing the struggle exceed (often greatly exceed) the benefits to be gained. This is the situation known as the “mutually hurting stalemate” which is often ripe for the introduction of proposals for a settlement.

De-escalation inevitably arrives when the fuel is spent.  It is impossible for conflict to sustain itself indefinitely and one side or the other will concede so that resolution may be reached.  Sound frustrating?  Argue, fight, and suffer until something happens and you or the other party give up.  That does not seem like a viable way to resolve conflict.  Understanding good techniques in negotiating may help resolve conflicts faster and in your favor.  You can learn more about how to do this with Negotiation: Problems Solved, No Battles Fought and How To Resolve Conflict for Children and Adults. 

Once de-escalation is complete, the settlement, or resolution, phase begins where the dominant party to the conflict makes concessions to placate the non-dominant party.  The key to this requires one to sacrifice a little to ensure conflict does not return.  Usually when conflict is settled, neither party is truly happy, but neither party is still aggrieved.  The important part of conflict resolution is ensuring that both parties can continue working or existing in harmony.  If this cannot be achieved, then the conflict has not been resolved fully.  The final part of the five steps of conflict resolution that can complete the process is peace-building.   In conflict between only two people, it is much easier to maintain as long as both parties do as agreed upon.  With groups it becomes more difficult, but never-the-less can still be done with good, strong leadership and trust-building.  The easiest was to instill trust is to use intermediaries so that they may monitor the parties and police the situation.  It must be agreed upon and mutually enforced to work effectively.

With all of these ways to fight conflict and achieve peace one might wonder, “How is it that we are so prone to war?”  The answer is simple.  People are not educated in conflict resolution and negotiation enough to recognize conflict early or they just do not care.  Let us hope that it is the former.