How We Deal with Conflict


Conflict doesn’t need to be part of communication

There are ‘models of conflict’ that go some way to describing the stages we go through when in conflict with another individual or group.  In essence they describe how humans deal with conflict.

These models or theories are sometimes used as a basis for mediation, enabling the mediators to pre-empt some of the behaviours that are often displayed.  Being in conflict doesn’t feel positive for anybody.  Whilst anger can be a very motivating emotion, if we are on the receiving end of the following two painful stages, it can really hurt.  Glasl, in his model of conflict calls the two stages that I am going to cover “Debates and Polemics” and “Loss of face”.  What does this mean in real terms?

“Debates and Polemics”

This is the stage of conflict escalation where any attempts at negotiation, compromise, ignoring the issue or ‘talking the other party round’ have failed.  At this point, the realisation that there will be no agreement or alignment of views has sunk in for both parties.  So, it becomes more about victory and defeat and less about the issue at hand.

Both parties may feel this, but if one party to the conflict feels more aggrieved than the other or less in control of the situation, they may become particularly attacking in their behaviour.  One party may start to see unfamiliar characteristics in the person as they may use aggressive language as a by-product of their core need to be victorious.  This is a very common and regular feature of conflict and regularly seen in the party that feels disempowered.

“Loss of face”

In a nutshell, this is where the disempowered party ‘others’ the opponent.  In the quest for victory, they may begin to label the other party or group as someone or something to be wary of.  They may speak of the other as though they are bad or cruel for example – literally ‘other’.  From a psychological perspective, this process enables people to begin to accept the situation and begins to reverse the feeling of disempowerment.

Many times, this escalates to a severe ‘de-humanisation’ of the individual or group.  They may be described as more of a monster than a human being.  A common feature of this stage is that this view is spread to other people not directly involved in the conflict.

This is part of the human need to identify with an ‘ingroup’ and to vilify the ‘outgroup’ (or individual).  The aggrieved party will ‘rally the troops’ in this process. The members of the ingroup will share this view of the outgroup and lend support as the conflict reaches the point of no return.  There may be a sense that ‘all has become clear’ as the aggrieved party “re-writes” their understanding (from positive or neutral to negative) of the other.


If you are experiencing any of this from another person or group it can be extremely hurtful.  You may simply view the issue as a problem to overcome as best you can. Or a situation to deal with without wishing to hurt or harm the other person.  Remind yourself that you are doing your best. Seek support if you can.

If you are the aggrieved party and have noticed yourself becoming angry and attacking.  Try and step back from the situation.  Conflict is a normal part of life.  We cannot get on with everyone.  We cannot please everyone.  Things don’t always go our way. There are no guarantees.

In both scenarios try and prioritise yourself and exercise some self-care.  Being in conflict is never pleasant but allowing the negativity to take over can be debilitating and really hold us back.

Does your communication need work? Try and hear the other person, try not to engage with the blame game.

And with all things emotional, if we deal with the feelings by allowing ourselves to experience them, with time they will become more manageable

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