Stages of Conflict in the Workplace

Learn to indentify the stages of conflict and stop confrontation before it starts.
Learn to indentify the stages of conflict and stop confrontation before it starts. (Image: Oppenheim Bernhard/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Workplace conflict can be counterproductive, devastating to project deadlines and expensive if the conflict rages on for an extended period of time. Or confrontation can create tension that bolsters the creative element in your staff, according to organizational psychologist and employment expert Dr. David G. Javitch, writing on the Entrepreneur website. If you learn to identify the stages of conflict in the workplace, then you may be able to catch it early enough to make it positive rather than negative.

Casual Disagreement

Conflict arises from a disagreement of some sort, according to Dr. David G. Javitch, writing on the Entrepreneur website. In the early stages, a conflict can seem unimportant to even the parties involved. There may be a casual disagreement about something to do with a pending project, or the pressures of a coming deadline cause a difference of opinion to erupt.

At this early stage, Dr. Javitch suggests that the conflict can be coaxed into something productive by coaching each side to voice their opinions but in a controlled environment. Ignoring the conflict at this stage can allow it to move to a higher and more problematic level.


In the "casual disagreement" stage, there may be an attempt by either side to foster cooperation to stop the conflict. But, at some point, the spirit of cooperation falls away and the notion of a competition ensues, according to corporate mediation expert Douglas Noll, writing for the Mediate website. Now both parties feel an increasing need to establish their point of view as right, and the opposing point of view as wrong.


If management does not step in when cooperation turns to competition, then the conflict moves to the confrontation stage. This is where the shouting begins, the name calling may start and the emotions begin to escalate. The parties are no longer listening to rational ideas and it becomes a loud and potentially violent contest to see who can exert his will the strongest.

Peak Tension

At some point, the conflict will escalate to where something may happen to pop the tension like a balloon and bring the opposing parties back to the cooperation phase, according to small-business expert Keith McFarland, writing for the Inc. website. A well-timed joke or even an appropriate visual gag may break the tension enough to get the parties to listen to a third party mediate a solution.

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