The Conflict Triangle

This edition of Mentor Online is original material by Rev. George Brookover.

Most conflicted or turbulent situations first appear at Level 1. Almost all matters can be resolved that first appear in this stage of any issue or concept divergence. But the issues need to be addressed for what they are. Timid or testy people are prone to “misread” this stage of conflict and there is an escalation to Level 2.

Level 2 is a time when the person who is being addressed by a disturbed or disgruntled person really needs to be defining the problem so that clarity can be achieved. What may be just a matter of “business as usual” for the person being addressed may misread that the complainant may perceive the matter at a much deeper or serious degree of importance. Defining what is being communicated can help bring resolution.

Level 3 is a tricky stage of turbulence, especially if the person bringing the problem or misunderstanding is troubled about something elsewhere in their life and may be trying to exert influence or solve something in this setting that they have carried from elsewhere. The antagonistic individual, even if upset for a valid reason, will have a tendency to invest a great deal more energy (and stamina!) into the confrontation than those who are on the receiving end.

In Level 4 attempts to bring reason or calm to a moment of turbulence are usually deflected or rejected by a person or persons who are into a “win-lose” mode. This does not mean that reasonable or sensible people should not work for “win-win” outcomes. And yet, the reality is that if satisfaction has not been achieved in the first two levels and antagonism has not “won the day”…then a conflict of wills in almost inevitable. Some folks like to stay at this level in all aspects of their lives by being chronically antagonistic.

In the fifth level there is some good news: fewer folks stay engaged to this point in the life span of a conflicted situation. Either the issue or concern has been settled or participants have withdrawn. But there is also bad news: if combat occurs it will be memorable if not significant.

Published by

Retired Lutheran (ELCA) clergyperson. Founder & owner of Brookover Leadership Development & Consulting, Inc. (1967)

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