Recognizing Conflicts Early On and Avoiding Damage

Herbert Muster
Communication and interaction skills

Dissent or conflict?

An emotionally charged debate does not necessarily have to be an expression of conflict. Disagreements are usually based on different experiences and perspectives of the parties involved. As long as the relationship level remains undamaged, they are signs of a healthy exchange. Furthermore: The exchange is an engine for creativity and innovation. It is the basis for better decisions and is therefore invaluable.

On the other hand, in conflicts, different needs and interests clash with each other. They are emotionally charged and lead to disturbed work relationships.

A difference of opinion does not mean that the common goal is at risk Conflict, on the other hand, separates. It leads to deteriorated relationships and affects cooperation.

Recognize conflicts

You are witnessing two employees getting into an argument: Is conflict developing, or are they having a lively discussion? If you notice these signs, you should become alert:

Lack of understanding and respect due to different opinions, beliefs and values.

Emotional tensions
damage the relationship and cooperation between the conflicting parties.

as well as open arguments and aggression are clear signs of conflict.

Dissatisfaction or frustration
with the performance or decisions of others also lead to conflict.

Conflict types: Recognizing conflict types

There are many causes of conflicts. These are the most common:

Interpersonal conflicts
Differences in opinions, values, interests or personalities within the company.

Organizational conflicts
Opposing goals, values or interests lead to conflicts between departments, groups or teams.

Intercultural conflicts
Cultural differences between employees from different countries, regions or ethnic groups create a lack of understanding or lead to misunderstandings.

Role conflicts
Tasks and areas of responsibility are poorly defined, creating conflicting expectations.

Conflicts over resources
Conflicts due to competition for limited resources such as money, personnel, time or materials.

Conflicts over goals
The parties involved have different views on what goals and priorities should be pursued.

Conflicts can have single or multiple causes. Identifying the root causes can help resolve the conflict.

You can learn more about conflict types here: Conflict types at a glance:These are the ones you need to know.

How conflicts escalate

The economist, organizational consultant and conflict researcher Friedrich Glasl became known for a conflict model. It describes nine escalation stages and emphasizes the importance of resolving conflicts early on, while it is still possible. These are the escalation stages:


At the beginning, the conflict is still relatively superficial. It is clearly directed at a specific problem or situation. In this first phase, the perspectives of the parties involved harden.

Polarization & Debate

The conflicting parties begin to argue their points of view with greater vehemence and try to convince the other side. They increasingly reject the positions of the opposing side, and the fronts continue to harden.

Actions instead of words

The discussion is noticeably becoming sharper. The conflicting parties feel treated unfairly and make their displeasure known to the opposing side.

Common enemy

The conflicting parties seek to join forces with like-minded people. All aggression is directed at the common enemy. It is no longer about resolving the crisis, but about saving face and being right.

Loss of face

The participants express opinions and insinuations in order to morally devalue the opponent.


Threats are intended to influence the other party, put them under pressure and force them to give up.

Limited destruction strikes

The opponent is to be morally weakened and harmed with attacks on their interests and positions.


The original conflict erupts up and splits into several sub-conflicts. This is intended to dissolve the network of the opposing party.


The conflict has escalated to the point where a solution is hardly possible anymore. The conflicting parties have long-lost sight of their goals. The price of victory is so high that the conflicting parties end up ruining themselves.

Resolving conflicts

Various approaches and strategies have proven effective for conflict resolution. Here are some examples:


Consensus produces the best result because it does not create any losers. The solution is fully acceptable to all parties.


In a compromise, the conflicting parties agree on a middle ground, in which each party gains and loses something.


In this strategy, one person or group makes a decision that is binding for everyone.


The conflict is avoided or postponed. It is left to rest. In some cases, this strategy can be useful, but it can also cause the conflict to worsen.


An independent mediator is brought in to mediate between the conflicting parties and to find a solution that is acceptable to all.

The choice of strategy depends on the nature of the conflict and the people involved. If you want to learn more, continue reading here: Conflict resolution—these 6 strategies you must know.

Conflict management at PINKTUM

Resolving conflicts is both a challenge and an opportunity. Our courses support employees and managers in dealing responsibly with conflicts and finding solutions.

From our e⁠-⁠learning program:

  • The 6 Strategies of Conflict Resolution

  • Conflict Resolution for Managers

  • Avoiding and Defusing Workplace Conflicts

  • The Harvard Approach to Conflict Management

  • Understanding and Identifying Types of Conflicts

  • Conflict Resolution Between Colleagues

  • Talking Through Conflict

Click here for another overview of our offer.

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