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Conflict Escalation Model F.Glasl.png

Conflicts: We don't want them, but we all have them and need to manage them

People living and working together, from the closest relationships with partners, children or friends, through those with superiors and colleagues to those of states, ethnic groups and religions, always contain potential for conflict.

On the one hand through the framework conditions and structures in which we live: how are power and competencies distributed, which functions or roles do we hold, is there a lack of resources or information, a lack of agreements and fair rules or are there simply too many different interests and needs ?

On the other hand, conflicts always interact and are related to our personal values ​​and beliefs, which often lead to (mis)interpretations, prejudices and selective perception.

Therefore, a conflict is always what we make of it: A power struggle? Giving in for the sake of dear peace? A refusal to deal with problems as necessary? A fair search for a common solution?


The choice of how to deal with a conflict also depends strongly on our own  attitude towards conflicts and which strategies were consciously or unconsciously applied in our families of origin. It is therefore always worthwhile to become aware of these assumptions and strategies and to review them.


A) Often, the "early detection" of a conflict already helps to be able to take countermeasures in time:


Typical conflict signals and signs:

  • Stubbornness (until the communication breaks off)

  • Repetition (often compulsive assertion)

  • Defensiveness (reluctant to counterarguments)

  • Reality distortion or clouding (facts are no longer acknowledged)

  • Ambivalence in speech and behavior (one wants something and behaves in the opposite way)

  • Mental and emotional absence (like someone isn’t there)

  • Pattern-like behavior (acts as played as a quirk, allure)


B) Knowledge of the mechanisms of conflict escalation:
Furthermore, we must be aware that a conflict can take a disastrous course by itself in the form of escalation mechanisms, which we can only actively counteract by raising awareness and reflecting on our own (good) intentions, as well as our human and social moral concepts.


Univ.-Prof. Friedrich Glasl[1], an Austrian conflict researcher, mediator and organizational consultant, developed the phase model of escalation[2], as an analysis tool, which describes the "suction effect" of the downward movement of a conflict escalation:

































The individual phases are described in more detail in the model; I would like to single out the paradoxical thinking that underlies threatening (threatening strategies, conflict level 6): The purpose of threats is to prevent the opponent from using violence by promising acts of violence (e.g. sanctions) in order not to need to use this violence. This means that the threatening person feels compelled to commit minor acts of violence just to appear credible. From the point of view of the threatened person, however, this proves the threatening intent to be aggressive and provokes counter–violence. As a counter–deterrent, this must be stronger and thus leads further into the spiral of violence!

Glasl also assigns the various escalation levels to the strategy models of moderation (for levels 1-3), process support (levels 3-5), socio-therapeutic process support (4-6), conciliation/mediation (5-7) arbitration/judicial proceedings (6th -8) and finally power intervention (7-9) for de-escalation.

In the current, terrible development of the war in Ukraine, one can clearly see these mechanisms and the urgent need for immediate de-escalation measures.

C) De-escalate and manage conflicts:
Even if it is "only" about our own conflicts in our personal environment, knowing about the negative escalation steps can wake us up to apply de-escalating measures in time and/or get professional help, for example in the form of counseling or conflict mediation.

The first thing everyone can do themselves is to pause and realize that escalation almost happens by itself, but de-escalation requires energy and determination! For this, everyone can first get out of the downward spiral themselves, calm down in order to stop further escalating, automated fight/flight reactions triggered by our stress hormones and the resulting “psychological fog”.

A tested and proven tool for this immediate de-escalation is the temporary interruption of a "hot" conflict (argument) by a "time-out", during which the conflict parties each try to calm down on their own.

It can help to take a deep breath and release the tension and the pent-up adrenaline level by consciously shaking and loosening the whole body. Animals still free themselves naturally and automatically from the excessively built-up tension: after a quarrel/fight, for example between geese or dogs, one can observe that the "brawlers" (in)voluntarily shake themselves off after the argument or a tremor goes through their bodies . The method developed by David Berceli[3], called TRE® (Tension and Traume Releasing Exercises)[4], also uses this “neurogenic tremor” to reduce excessive tension caused by stress and trauma.


The Hawaiian Huna philosophy also teaches that the healing effect of any intervention is directly related to the level of stress relief it provides[5]. It follows that an efficient, timely reduction of tension states should be applied on the one hand for “emergency aid” (de-escalation of a conflict) and also for subsequent tension relief. Here is a selection of helpful techniques: breathing techniques such as the Hawaiian HA breath[6], tapping techniques such as Dynamind[7] and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Progressive Muscle Relaxation (E.Jakobson)[8], yoga, sport, recharging in nature and much more.


The Harvard Approach[9] offers further tips for dealing with conflicts constructively:

  Separate the People from the Problem

  • Separate factual and relationship level

  • Tough on the matter, soft on the person (accepting the integrity of the other: "I'm OK, you're OK")

  • Put oneself in the other person's position instead of cultivating prejudices

  • Acknowledge emotions and try to understand their source

  • Use communication techniques (feedback, active listening, explicit communication, questions of understanding, rules of interaction...)


  Focus on Interests not Positions

  • Try to see the people behind the positions (point of view) with their interests, concerns, needs and motives—this expands perception and enables multiple solutions!

  • Talk about these interests

  Invent Options for Mutual Gain

  • Think in terms of possibilities and variants, allow brainstorming

  • Allow choices

  • Look for advantages for both sides (win-win)

  • In addition to the first best solutions for both parties, think through the second/third best solution and possibly the worst-case scenario

  Insist on Using Objective Criteria

  • If it is possible for the topic— find, define and use objective criteria then act accordingly

  • Argue sensibly.

  • Do not bow to pressure but only give way/agree to neutral principles/objective criteria and arguments



F.Glasl puts it in a nutshell: "Social conflicts are failed efforts at change and development.When people courageously face up to conflicts and deal with them constructively, amazing developmental steps can happen that would not have been possible without conflict."


Historian and peace researcher Daniele Ganser also shares the insight that we can all grow from our conflicts.[10]

Representing our concerns with respect, communicating in a more relationship-friendly manner and seeing conflicts as positive challenges not only makes our daily lives easier—it changes our whole attitude towards life.




[2] F.Glasl.: Konfliktmanagement : ein Handbuch für Führung, Beratung und Mediation; 12.Auflage, 2020



[5]  (Masterthese)

[6] (Video: Einfache Atemübung)

[7] (Video: Einfache Atemübung)

[8] Die Dynamind-Technik

[9] Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce M. Patton (Hrsg.): Das Harvard-Konzept. Der Klassiker der Verhandlungstechnik. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1984; 24. Auflage

[10] Daniele Ganser, Interview: Wie finde ich Frieden in mir?

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