Conflict Escalation - Easy steps to manage and resolve your conflicts.

Conflict Escalation - Easy steps to manage and resolve your conflicts.


Mediate to Go: Conflict can escalate easily if we don't address it appropriately.

Blog on Conflict Escalation


This blog is about the conflict process model by Morton Deutsch. His work, also known to some as the conflict escalation model or used as a conflict diagnostic model, can help parties learn more about the conflict escalation process and what one can do to increase the likelihood of effective conflict resolution and conflict management

Introduction to Conflict Escalation


In order to effectively manage conflict , one must better understand the dynamics of conflict escalation. Conflict can be a normal and healthy part of any relationship.  Workplace conflict, if managed effectively, can be good for business.  Differences in perceptions can improve problem-solving and increase innovation. Personal conflicts, such as conflict in the family, can help people determine their values and ask for what they need. In order for conflict to be a positive thing, one must manage the process of conflict so that it does not lead to conflict escalation.

What is conflict escalation?

Morton Deutsch, a pivotal leader in the field of conflict resolution, psychology and education described conflict escalation in detail. In his view, conflict at times may become destructive,  ”by a tendency to expand and escalate”. Conflict escalation is a negative process of conflict.
Deutsch stated,


The tendency to escalate conflict results from the conjunction of three interrelated processes:

1.     Competitive processes involved in the attempt to win the conflict;

2.     Processes of misperception and biased perception; and

3.     Processes of commitment arising out of the pressures for cognitive and social consistency. These processes give rise to a mutually reinforcing cycle of relations that generate actions and reactions that intensify the conflict. (direct quote, p. 352)

Limiting conflict escalation?

Other processes may have the effect of limiting conflict escalation. However, if they are weak, conflict may escalate. Other processes that might lead to conflict escalation if they are weak include:



4.     The number and strength of the existing cooperatives bonds;

5.     Cross cutting identifications;

6.     Common allegiances and memberships among the conflicting parties;

7.     The existence of values, institutions, procedures, and groups that are organized to help limit and regulate conflict; and

8.     The salience and significance of the costs of intensifying conflict. (direct quote, p. 352)



Unfortunately, ”Even if [these] are strong, misjudgment and the pressures arising out of tendencies to be rigidly self-consistent may make it difficult to keep a competitive conflict encapsulated.” (p.352) In sum, limiting conflict escalation requires a great deal of effort for mediators, conflict coaches, and parties facing conflict. One basic way of stopping conflict escalation is through ending blame and defensiveness.

Process of Conflict


Destructive process of conflict


Conflict, if not managed effectively, leads to a process of conflict that is destructive. Some destructive conflict is also characteristic in destructive relationships and revenge. Deutsch stated the following characteristics of the processes of conflict when it becomes destructive,



  • The initial cause of the conflict is forgotten or becomes irrelevant;
  • The issues expand in size and number;
  • More people become involved in the conflict;
  • The precedents and principles which appear to be bad issue increase;
  • Parties are willing to absorb a higher cost;
  • Negative attitudes towards the other side are intensified;
  • Parties rely more on power, and “upon the tactics of threats, coercion, and deception”. (direct quote, p. 352-3)

Constructive process of conflict


An ideal process of conflict resolution involves the use of ”Persuasion and from the tactics of conciliation, minimization of differences, and enhancement of mutual understanding and goodwill.” (p.352) These there just a few ways to move constructive conflicts from escalation to resolution.



For Deutsch and others in the field of conflict resolution, constructive processes of conflict resolution we’re based on three key features; creative thinking, cooperative problem-solving, benevolent misperception and cooperative commitment. (p. 360-365)

Creative thinking


“[O]ne of the creative functions of conflict resides in its ability to arouse motivation to solve a problem that might otherwise go unattended.” (p. 361) In order to facilitate creative reactions to problems requires that people do not feel in anyway threatened and they are tolerant of ambiguity and open the unknown. (361) 

In order to increase the possibility of a constructive process of conflict resolution, we must create a safe space and help ourselves and others feel motivated to address the conflict. Mediators and conflict coaches must constantly ensure that parties feel safe and comfortable, as a means of improving creative outcomes to a conflict – hence,  a major benefit of using mediation services.

Cooperative problem-solving


“In a cooperative context, the conflict can be viewed as a common problem in which the conflicting parties have the joint interest of reaching a mutually satisfactory solution.” (p. 363-4) Cooperation has many positive impacts that can lead to a more constructive process of conflict resolution. Deutsche found the following:


·      Open communication is facilitated between the parties which increases the exchange of information, helping parties address the real issues of the conflict;

·      Each side is recognized as having legitimate interests and the need to find a solution that addresses these;

·      Trust and friendliness improves, which helps parties be sensitive to their similarities and shared concerns and downplays their differences. (p. 363-4)

Benevolent misperception


“Cooperation tends to minimize differences and enhances the perception of the others' benevolence.” This means, if parties are overall more cooperative, they’re more likely to see the other person as having good intentions. Deutsche also mentioned some shortcomings of this, if parties do not address all of their issues.  However, benevolent misperception can increase the likelihood of cooperative conflict resolution. As a result, we recommend facilitating a cooperative environment, be it in a professional or personal context.

Cooperative commitment


For better in some cases, ”[p]ast investments, already established facilities, procedures and institutions, Obligations to third parties, and situational pressures may operate to bind one to a cooperative relationship.” (p. 364) This means that ”[t]he bonds of a cooperative relationship maybe cemented in loyalty, obligation, conformity, guilt, or convenience as well as in personal attachment and personal gain.” (p. 365)



The question then becomes, does the end justify the means? It seems that more adversarial forms of negotiation (see also negotiation tactics) would tend to use some of these means to encourage the resolution of the conflict. However, if parties are not fully motivated to abide by the resolution, or their feelings of loyalty, attachment, guilt or notions of personal gain change, the resolution might be at risk. As conflict resolution experts, we recommend that parties do their best to address the root of the issues at hand to prevent social conflict escalation and a stalemate.

Conflict management and conflict resolution

Taking self-leadership in conflict situations also means learning about conflict escalation and how to reduce the likelihood of fights going bad - destructive conflict. 

Mediate2go: Don't escalate conflict - be a self-leader

You might ask yourself, what is destructive conflict at home or what is destructive conflict at work, and how can it be resolved?



To effectively manage or resolve a conflict, one must do their best to prevent the conflict from escalating. The conflict escalation process can decrease the likelihood of parties finding a means of collaborating and resolving their shared issues together. In some ways, addressing the stages of a conflict through addressing the conflict escalation process is a way to resolve conflict in itself.


What does this mean for you? You need to know how to manage conflicts at work? How to address the conflict within your family?  Here are some recommendations;






Deutsch, M. 1973. Conflicts: Productive and destructive. In Conflict resolution through communication, edited by F. E. Jandt. New York: Harper & Row. 

Some links on conflict escalation:




Keywords: Conflict de escalation, de escalating conflict, it escalation process,


Mediate2go - Conflict Escalation

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