Levels of Conflicts

Conflicts are an inseparable part of life and we cannot escape their constructive or destructive effects on us. That’s why it is important for us to know how to deal with conflicts affecting us at our work and home environments.

The art of managing a conflict lies not in avoiding them but steering them towards a positive outcome, depending on the phase the conflict has escalated to.

At work, if a conflict between team members is resolved in time, it leads to enhanced cooperation and creativity in finding a solution, forming close relationships, fostering a sense of justice, increased energy and motivation or even stronger trust in each other.

A conflict that is managed and resolved to the satisfaction of every involved individual offers quite a few advantages. However, on the other hand, leaving a conflict unresolved can adversely affect everyone involved.

While there are many ways to deal with a conflict, Speed Leas, consultant and author, presented a model which is quite unique. According to him, a conflict can be classified into five levels. Determining the level of the conflict can guide us towards finding the best solution. Let’s look at how to classify and resolve a conflict based on the model presented by Speed Leas.

Level 1 – A problem to solve

A conflict can be classified as Level 1 if it is arising out of disagreement in goals, values and needs. Individuals involved in a Level 1 conflict usually have differing views and suggestions. However, resolving a Level 1 conflict does not require much effort. Using constructive language, focusing on facts and rational arguments instead of subjective feelings helps.  Using statements such as “Now I see your point, but I still prefer another solution” brings about positivity in the process of resolution. With a Level 1 conflict, we must take care to not allow it to escalate to the next level.

Level 2 – Disagreement

Disagreements are a part of life and are to be expected. Individuals involved in disagreement are often guided by their feelings, not facts. So, on most occasions, their focus is on defending their stand instead of finding a solution to the disagreement by trying to understand the perspective of the other individual. Understanding the viewpoint of the other party is the key to deescalating and diffusing any disagreement. A Level 2 conflict can easily escalate to the next one if the parties to the conflict indulge in generalisations, criticism or try to force their own perspectives.

Level 3 – Contest

In a Level 3 conflict, the involved individuals indulge in personal attacks and seek allies. They form support groups with the aim of defeating their rivals, but do not think about resolving the conflict. A Level 3 conflict is a mixture of antagonistic feelings, “win-lose” solutions, gossips, and harboring personal grudges. At workplace, a Level 3 conflict can cause the team to split into groups, which can adversely the project they are working on. Focusing on the problem and cooling emotions helps in controlling and resolving a Level 3 conflict. A mediator, team leader or someone from outside the team can deescalate the situation by balancing the emotions of the team members and addressing the root cause of the dispute.

Level 4 – Fight

When a conflict reaches Level 4, the focus of the involved individuals shifts from “winning” to “destroying” the other party. The conflict becomes ideological and the parties want to pull down their rivals at all cost. Solving the problem is no longer the consideration. In a Level 4 conflict, addressing the emotions and the root cause of the problem might not be sufficient. The mediator should work with each member of the team, reinforcing rules of non-violent communication and space where mutual consent might be reached. Finding such spaces and relying on the goodwill of individuals will slowly deescalate the conflict.

Level 5 – Intractable situations

In a conflict which reaches Level 5, tension and negative emotions are so strong that they repel the chances of finding any reasonable solution. This makes the conflict seem unmanageable. The parties involved don’t cooperate or interact any longer; however, they don’t harm each other. In a work setting, a Level 5 conflict may not only affect individuals but also a part, if not the entire organization. Therefore, sometimes, there might arise the need to cut off some relationships and lay off the most inflexible parties to the conflict.

At Aspire, Poland, the team leads are trained and equipped with soft skills which enable them to manage conflicts as well as ensure that their team members engage in respectful communication practices. Resolving any conflict is given priority by the team lead. Listening to the concerns of the team members, observing their interactions and the atmosphere, one-to-one meetings create the possibility of understanding the reasons for the conflict and personalities of the team members. In case intervention of an external advisor is needed, the HR team is always ready to take part in the mediation process.

Conflicts escalate and deescalate. Managing a conflict begins with understanding at which level a conflict is placed and deescalating it through communication, focusing on the problem, and addressing emotions. Up to the second level, where emotions are manageable, it’s best to focus on the problem and the facts, but after a conflict escalates beyond the third level, it’s advisable to call in a mediator to tone down the emotions and tensions. Remember, the higher the level of conflict, the tougher it becomes to resolve successfully.

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