1.2 Levels of conflict

Handle conflict early rather than late

Conflict doesn’t have to become a crisis before we take charge of the situation. Managing a potential conflict long before it’s a crisis is a sound investment in time and energy. Many serious issues can be prevented by early attention. So start using your conflict resolution skills early in the process of a conflict.

You will need to begin paying attention to the conflict clues, which can range from being very subtle to dramatically obvious. The path from discomfort to crisis is often a slippery slope. Ask yourself: “Is this something I can easily let go of? Would it be wiser to get it out in the open? Does it have implications?” If so, look for an opportunity to start a constructive conversation.

Conflict is all around us. Avoiding it is impossible and undesirable. As your skills in conflict resolution develop, you will address potential conflict earlier and with more ease. Yes, it can be scary as you begin this practice but you’ll soon find that these challenging conversations are an opportunity for deeper connection.

Conflict clues

Check your conflict. Where is it at?


Things don’t feel quite right. Perhaps nothing is said yet. Try to identify what the problem is.

  • Ask yourself: “What is really the matter?”
  • Could you do something about this now?


Has there been some minor unpleasantness between you and someone else? What was said that was upsetting? 

Are you a bit upset, irritated or left with a result you didn’t want? You could brush it aside, but will it simmer and cloud future interactions? If so, it‘s better to clear it up.

  • Could you do something about this now? 


Misunderstandings occur when motives and facts are confused or misperceived. Perhaps a comment raised a touchy issue. Are you both now unable to communicate effectively with each other? Do your thoughts return there often? Do later issues keep making it worse? If so, unless there are compelling reasons not to, it’s really time to clear the air.

  • Might you have misinterpreted the other person’s feelings, motives or responsibilities?  How? 
  • How could you address this? 


Tension arises from a build-up of failed communications. Emotions are running high. The relationship is weighed down by negative attitudes and fixed opinions. The way each regards the other person has changed for the worse. Each finds the relationship a source of worry and concern, and each probably holds a negative stance towards the other person.

  • Does each new interaction confirm the poor opinions held about each other? In what ways? 
  • Unless there is a compelling reason to leave the whole problem alone, tension needs to be addressed. Crisis is close, so what could you do to address this situation before that happens?


Where there is extreme behaviour – abuse hurled, overwhelming emotions, a job lost, a relationship ended, possibly violence – that’s  crisis!

Normal functioning becomes difficult, extreme gestures and irrevocable actions are contemplated or executed. Crisis is the hardest time to handle the conflict. It may be much too late. Yet it may be essential. 

  • Has a major explosion occurred? 
  • Were extreme measures threatened? What?
  • Was the outcome constructive or destructive? In what ways?  Was there any kind of intervention? 
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