The Five Stages of Constructive Conflict Management

The Five Stages of Constructive Conflict Management

COM 325 Communication and Conflict

Conflict is a common occurrence in everyday life. It occurs within our homes with family, at work with co-workers or employers, strangers in the streets, and can even occur within ourselves (internal conflict). Conflict can be viewed as an opposition to our needs, values and interests. It is usually perceived as a negative aspect because there are usually negative outcomes and the emotions associated with conflict are negative. Conflict occurs in five stages. Each of these stages can either be constructive or deconstructive. It is preferable to proceed through conflict using a constructive method in hopes to reach a positive solution. In order to for this to occur we must have proper communication skills. Establishing the proper communication skills will assist in navigating through the five stages of conflict with a positive, more constructive approach.

A married couple of twenty-five years have had their share of arguments over the course of the marriage. But one particular issue seems to continue to arise. The husband has an issue with his wife always making unexpected family gatherings. One particular occasion the husband decided to confront the wife about this issue. The husbands angry comment to his wife was, “I know you enjoy having family over but you really need to discuss with me when you are planning to invite people to our house. I don’t like finding these things out a few days before they arrive.” At this point we are at the beginning of the conflict. The husband is feeling as if he is not valued in the marriage so he makes the attempt to address the issue. Because we are aware that one participant is ready to address an issue we know that we are at the Prelude Phase of the conflict. This is the point where we can assess the variables, which are as followed:

The variables are set at this point and we can see the conflict developing similar to a domino effect “these factors will affect the course of conflict” (Abigail and Cahn, 2014).

  • Participants (Husband and the wife)
  • Relationship between the Participants (Married)
  • Other interested parties including bystanders (in this case there are none)
  • Environment both physical and social. (At the home, dealing with family gatherings)

The wife responds with a very bitter tone, “well you are always at work so some one has to plan gatherings or we will never see my parents or yours. What is the issue with me doing these things?” His response, “Well just because I’m working does not mean that I don’t exist in the marriage or that I shouldn’t have a say in what goes on here. I have a right to be included in these last minute decisions you are always making.” This is where we can find the next stage of Conflict management. This is called the Trigger Event. The Trigger event is where one particular participants behavior is the cause of the conflict. In this case both participants begin to feel that it is the husbands tone and comment that seems to be the Trigger to the conflict. But if we look closely we see in actuality it is the wife’s impulsiveness and her inconsiderate behavior to invite the in-laws and her parents over without discussing with her husband if the timing for the visit was appropriate. This is called Meta-Conflict Analysis. Both parties here do not realize that it is the wife’s reoccurring behavior that is the cause. If the husband would have thought through what he wanted to convey to his wife and chose his words differently along with a change in his tone, they may have been able to discuss this rather than begin a debate over having family over. For instance, if he would have said calmly, “Honey, I think we should discuss when we are going to have guest in our home so it is more appropriate time for both of us” maybe the wife’s response would not have been so defensive.

The next stage to follow is the Initiation Phase. Here we acknowledge that a conflict exists and try to express that there is an issue between the two participants. At this point the argument can either be a heated verbal exchange or it can be the point where both parties can hear out each other’s opinions. At this stage warning signs are apparent.

Once we have established the signs and stated each other’s opinions, we can move on to the Differentiation Phase. This is the point where both parties begin to use Constructive tactics. In the case of the married couple, it would be ideal to use proper body language and vocal tone while making statements to support their argument. Here the wife’s comment to support her stance is, “I didn’t think you mind that I was doing all this for us, I figured you were busy focusing on work. I never thought you wanted to be include in something like this because I know how much your parents mean to you.” If we look carefully at her word choice and tone we can see it is not violent and in fact she is showing that she is aware of how hard her husband works. His response to this is, “Well maybe we can sit down and discuss how to handle it in terms of time. I can try to take off of work during the time that they are coming but we would have to look at the calendar together.” Because Constructive strategies have been implemented the Differentiation Phase has the ability to continue on with less chaos and less emotional negativity.

The last and final stage of Constructive Conflict is the Resolution phase. Reviewing the prior stages of the conflict we can see how it is easy to have the issue run its course in a deconstructive manner, which will turn the resolution stage into something without a proper solution that is fitting for both parties. (Montgomery, 1995) But because the couple was willing to actively listen to each other express their needs they were able to come up with a solution that allows both of them to be satisfied. Because the couple now schedules the family visits together they are both able to satisfy their needs are met and they have a proper solution that will work future arguments. This is the ideal way to end conflict (Abigail and Cahn, 2014).

The most preferred ending to conflict is a collaboration, in which both parties agree on the outcome with a positive settlement. The most constructive method to conflict would always end with collaboration. This requires the parties to recognize, confront, and resolve their conflict while tending to each other’s needs, and concerns without sacrificing their own. When conflicts are managed effectively relationships develop with strength and future conflicts can be met with more creative, and positive solutions.


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