Conflict Escalation & Early Intervention



Conflict – it is a natural part of working and organisational life, and as Karl Marx and many other conflict theorists suggest, it is inevitable. While conflict does not always result in destruction, when it does it moves from task-related to person-related based conflict. As the conflict escalation model suggests, when conflict is not addressed or intervened from the beginning, it can lead to escalation, spiral and grow in severity overtime.

So what do we know about the conflict escalation model?

The model suggests that conflict emerges in a sequential manner. This usually starts with a trigger. When left unresolved, it moves onto further issues being created. Parties then start to form alliances, leading to distortion of communication and finally, moving to parties taking extreme positions and focusing on hurting each other. 

Over time, the conflict moves away from the initial issues and becomes more emotional and interpersonal. This spiral or escalation has 2 main zones – one where the conflict has not yet emerged into public view, and one where the conflict becomes public and direct.

Our team have found that often in investigations, by the time a complaint is brought to us, the relationship between parties involved has been eroded and the events leading up to this break down have been left to spiral out of control for too long.

What this means for the Employer is that it is more difficult to repair the relationship and, as it emerges into the public eye, the conflict will start to affect the culture of the business and impact on other employees. This often leads to employees ‘banking up’ their concerns or complaints leading up to a formal complaint being made. As the investigations would then involve multiple allegations for our Investigators to make findings on, it means there are more recommendations and/or actions the Employer needs to initiate after the investigation.

Managing conflict is never easy, however if the conflict escalation model tells us anything, it is that the best place to address problems is closest to the origin – the trigger.

Early intervention at the trigger affords the best opportunity to de-escalate conflict successfully and create a win-win situation for both parties. It also saves time, money, and wellbeing. For employers, early invention may look like a facilitated conversation between individuals, mediation, continuous check-ins etc.

However, as much as employers should be encouraged to manage conflicts and utilise soft skills, we know how difficult this can be knowing where to start and developing these skills. At Three60 Consult we can offer support to Employers through conflict coaching and providing best practice advice around processes and outcomes.

If the issue cannot be resolved at a lower level first or perhaps if a formal complaint/allegation has been made before low level action could be taken, employers should not hesitate to consider investigation. This is because although employers may feel that they can’t start an investigation until the issue reaches a certain level of breakdown, our investigators have seen that it is better to intercept and start the process early for the sake of preserving relationships and culture.

It is important to remember that being respectful, fair, transparent, neutral, unbiased, and empathetic throughout all processes both informal and formal is crucial to the outcome. However, if it is a formal process that needs to be taken, our investigators are highly experienced and can provide assistance and confidence to employers who need to undergo an investigation process.

Conflict in the workplace is never ideal, no matter the type or size. Having in place a strategy or understanding of how to approach conflict as it arises is critical for any employer and business.

If you need assistance with any of our conflict services, get in touch with one of our associates today.




This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

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