These situations caused me to reflect on what happens in conflict:
- How it gets started,
- How it escalates, and
- What you can do to de-escalate it.
I was also wondering if these situations happen in your life. Here's what I mean, you know what you should do in a given situation, the situation occurs, and then you do exactly the opposite of what you knew to do.
Since I'm guessing that I'm not alone in this struggle, I thought I would interrupt my series of posts on Frequently Asked Questions About the DISC Model by mixing in a few posts on understanding the dynamics of conflict escalation.
Using this post as a starting point, we can then look at how to avoid or minimize this problem in our lives.
In this post, I will quickly show a model of what often happens during conflict escalation. By understanding the model, we can plan positive steps to back conflicts down after they start. I'm drawing some of this post content from a video course I am developing on resolving personal workplace conflicts. I'll share more on that later.
The escalation cycle generally starts with one person (I'll call them Person A) doing or saying something that the other person (Person B) perceives as a threat. Notice the key word: perceives. It doesn't really matter if Person A meant their words or actions as a threat. It only matters if Person B sees the words or actions as a threat.
This perception of threat can take many forms, and it is likely linked to the anger process I wrote about previously.
Once Person B perceives a threat, they will probably move to anger and then behave in a self-protective way out of that anger.
Person A now perceives Person B's behavior as a threat.
Person A follows the same perception-anger-behavior pattern and further contributes to the conflict escalation as shown in the video above and the image below. (Click on the image for a larger view.)
I plan to revisit the specific things we can do to reverse this cycle in future posts. For now, I'll leave you with this observation: either person can take steps to de-escalate the conflict.
They can either:
Recognize the problem and change their behavior so that the other person no longer perceives a threat.
— or —
Question their perception in order to get their own anger under control.
In practice, the person taking responsibility would likely do both.
In an ideal world, both parties would take responsibility, stop blaming, and move to resolution. Even in our less than perfect world, either party can take the right actions and move to resolve the conflict with or without the other person's cooperation.
[…] I wrote previously about why your natural response to conflict is probably wrong and how conflicts escalate, we often feel angry or frustrated as conflicts get started — just as I felt frustrated when I […]
[…] we have entered what Dan Dana, author of Managing Differences, calls the “retaliatory cycle.” The retaliatory cylce leads to increasing levels of emotion and conflict. Since we have all […]
[…] this post on Why Conflicts Escalate for further insights on this topic.) If you liked this post, please tweet it, like it, share it, or […]
[…] Many conflicts begin or escalate because one person or the other perceives a threat in the interaction. Once our natural threat response kicks in, most of us do not respond well. Often, our response is downright negative: […]
[…] an effort to make your point. In fact, it’s a natural response to a situation you perceive as physically or emotionally threatening in some […]
[…] immediately assumed that Joe had a negative intention. His response followed the classic conflict escalation cycle almost perfectly. From this negative interpretation, he went to anger (my interpretation of his […]
[…] a previous post on why conflicts escalate, I wrote on the perception-anger-behavior pattern that often contributes to conflict escalation. […]
[…] Because failing to listen violates a need almost universally expressed by people in all cultures: the need to be heard and understood. Failing to meet another person’s need — or worse, violating a need — sends a threat signal through the other person’s mind that triggers the conflict escalation cycle. […]
[…] common reason that conflicts escalate is the perception of threat one or both parties see in the conflict escalation cycle. Taking an action that makes you non-threatening to the other person is a powerful step towards […]
[…] perception of threat is the primary reason for conflict escalation, and removing this perception is the leverage point for conflict de-escalation. Apology works so […]
[…] perception of threat is the primary cause for conflict escalation. The most important word in the previous sentence is perception. If you have no intention of […]