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Conflict Escalation – How to De-Escalate the Conflict Before It Spirals Out of Control

stairs-113610_1920I recently brought out all of my conflict management textbooks from hibernation. As I was flipping through the pages, I stumbled upon one of the topics I recalled finding fascinating when I was in school.  A Conflict Spiral defined by Dean G. Pruitt and Sung Hee Kim is, “escalation as a vicious cycle of action and reaction. One party’s punishing action provokes punishing retaliation by the other side, which in turn prompts increased retaliation from the first party.”

The term resonated with me because I have seen conflict spirals occur throughout my entire life but never knew this behavior had a name. So for example, when I was younger maybe nine or ten, my older brother and I had a pretty contentious relationship. At some point, we got into this battle where we hid one another’s things. It started off simple; he hid my favorite doll then I hid his favorite Nintendo game. He retaliated by hiding all my Dollhouse people; I countered by hiding his favorite CDs. We continued back and forth until eventually, it escalated to my brother holding my bedroom shut until I told him where his belongings were.

The example may not show the most catastrophic result of escalation; however, you can get a general idea. The most recent damaging conflict spirals I have witnessed has been on social media following the results of the elections. I witnessed people who voted for the opposing parties begin with harmless discussion over one particular topic, and after some tit, for tat back and forth the conversation quickly escalates to both sides calling one another names and vowing to “de-friend” both on social media and in life.

A conflict that spirals out of control can have damaging consequences between the two parties. Therefore, it is important to understand how to de-escalate a problem before it reaches that point.

  1. Recognize your triggers. Be mindful of your reactions to the things the other person is saying and doing. Take deep breaths and take the time to think before you speak. We often get hyped up during a conflict especially if we are feeling attacked; therefore, it is important to be self-aware during a conflict.
  2. Ask Yourself: What is the root conflict issue? In addition to number one tip ask yourself what this dispute involves? Often, the discussion goes from being about one topic and escalates to something else. We take low shots, insult the subject matter the other party is passionate about, and most often we cause our opponent to get defensive. We fight from emotions so we must become aware of the root of the actual conflict.
  3. Listen and be open-minded. Differing opinions and viewpoints can be a good and a bad thing depending on how you handle them. If you listen with the intent to be open-minded then perhaps you can extend your understanding of a differing viewpoint.
  4. Walk away. It may be more of an abrupt ending to a conflict; however, walking away from a conflict that is quickly escalating to a damaging point may be the quickest and simplest way to de-escalate a conflict.

Look out for the conflict spirals in your life and determine your best strategy for de-escalation.

Have a Good Week,

Abigail R. C. McManus  M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

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Being open-minded after I do – A discussion and tips on the blending of an intercultural relationship

blogIn six months, I will be getting married and one of the Pastor’s requirements was to meet with him and discuss how we plan to handle certain topics such as money, parenting, and marital expectations. The meeting was fairly easy as my fiancé and I share similar views and values on most of the topics covered. The other day at school, I was speaking to a friend who is also getting married around the same time as me, to a man from a completely different religious background. My friend is Catholic and her fiancé is Hindu. She will be blending two different religions into one household; I couldn’t help but think to myself how challenging that must be for a couple. Religion is one of those dinner party topics you are supposed to avoid because of the conflicts that often arise when they are discussed. However, a couple that is about to get married does not have the luxury of avoiding such topics. I began to research the challenges intercultural marriages face, and the majority of the information I found discussed the ability to learn, understand, accept, and adjust to one another’s cultures.

In an article found on Marriage Missions International, initially written in Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book, Called Together, they first caution intercultural couples to “Know each other’s culture.” Intercultural couples must have an understanding of one another’s culture, beliefs and values, as these are part of what makes up a person’s identity. A lack of understanding has the potential to raise fierce conflicts later on in marriage.

Herbert G. Lingren, an Extension Family Life Specialist, warns a value conflict may occur if, “two people have different attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These differences may interfere in making decisions if we are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the ‘right way’ to do things.” Communicating, understanding, keeping an open mind, and respecting one another’s beliefs and customs can alleviate a lot of the disagreements an intercultural couple faces.

In an article originally published in the Washington Post, Rebecca R. Kahlenberg, a freelance writer, suggests “Negotiate and renegotiate dicey issues. Ideally, the time to discuss and make agreements about intercultural topics is before the wedding. What are each of your commitment levels to your culture?” Prior to getting married it is imperative that an intercultural couple discusses in detail what cultural expectations each has and how they will address differences as they arise.

Lastly, Steve and Mary Prokopchak encourage “Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another.” While the blending of two different cultures may seem challenging at times, the positive outweighs the negative when looking at the big picture. An intercultural couple learns to be more open-minded and tolerant towards other people’s values and beliefs. If the couple then chooses to have kids, their kids will also grow to be more tolerant and open minded, which in today’s society is absolutely needed to make the world a better place.

My aforementioned friend said that despite the challenges she and her fiancé have and will face, she has come to love and appreciate Hindu customs. She said she looks most forward to kids and sharing with them all of the wonderful elements that both religions have to offer.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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