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The 5 stages of conflict, and how to successfully resolve them

Jelle Smeets
Follow me on my journey to make development teams go from good to great
Originally published at blog.jellesmeets.nl ・3 min read

In this article, we are going to take a look at the 5 stages of conflict. Each stage has its own behavior, language, and other signals. We can use these signals to recognize which stage the conflict is in.

After we know which stages of conflict there are, and how to recognize them. We will take a look at how we can successfully deescalate or resolve them.

Conflicts are part of collaborating. If you have ever worked in a team you can likely recognize this. To a certain degree conflicts are healthy and help the team develop itself. In "The 5 dysfunctions of a team", Patrick Lencioni states the fear of conflict is one of the dysfunctions. If present, the fear of conflict will keep the team from ever reaching the high-performing phase.

Stages of conflict

The stages of conflict can be divided into the following five phases. Each phase has signals you can recognize the stage by.

Stage Signals
Problems to solve Team members engage openly and constructively.
Examples: "I hear what you are saying, have you considered using X or Y?"
Disagreement Self-protection becomes important. Picking the best solution might not be the main goal for all team members.
Examples: "Yes I know I broke the build. But there are bigger issues than just a broken build we should focus on."
Contest The aim is to win. Team members start to pick sides, become personal and focus on building their case.
Examples: "He always forgets to test his code!"
Crusade Winning the conflict is not good enough. Team members believe people on "the other side" will not change. They believe it can only be resolved by removing the other side from the equation.
Examples: "Why should we run this by them? They are not using their brains anyway!"
World war Nothing good can come out of this stage of conflict. Winning is not enough, the other side needs to be destroyed!
Examples: "It is us or them!"

Resolving conflicts

Now that we know what stages of conflict there are, let's take a look at how we can resolve them.

Stage Resolving
Problems to solve Collaborate, try to find a win-win situation for both parties.
Disagreement Offer support and safety. Make sure everyone is empowered in finding a solution.
Contest Since things are getting personal, try to keep it to the actual issue. If things get too personal, damaging the relationship is a liability. Gathering facts or metrics about the actual issue might help keep the discussion not personal.
Crusade Use a neutral party to mediate the conflict. Talk to both parties until the conflict is de-escalated so you can use the resolving methods of the previous stages.
World war There is no resolving this one. Try anything you can to make sure people don't hurt each other.

Conclusion

In this article, we have taken a look at the 5 stages of conflict. We now know how to recognize them, and how to act accordingly to resolve the conflict. As a small side note, this is not a "one size fits all" solution to conflicts, merely a tool that can help you to make the right decision. If you are interested in learning more about conflicts and how to handle them, I recommend checking "Coaching Agile Teams" by Lyssa Adkins.

Are there any things that now fall into place on conflicts you had in the past? Please let me know in the comments if this article has helped you.

If you liked this article and looking for more, I recommend the Code reviews as a source of distrust article.

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