A process view of conflict means that conflict is not just a discrete interaction; rather, it is a series of stages with distinct characteristics. A process is dynamic, ongoing and continuous and changes over time. Similarly, communication is a process even though it comes so natural to us that we don’t think about it that way. But any interchange with another human being is a process. When we fail to look at another person’s point of view and assume our frame of reference is the only correct one we are not taking a process view of conflict
Patterns and Cycles in Constructive Conflict Processes
According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011) successfully resolved conflict moves through the following five distinct steps or phases:
Prelude to conflict: the variables that make conflict possible, i.e., the parties, the environment, the relationship and the presence of others. These are the ingredients of the conflict.
Triggering event: the stimulus, i.e., hurtful remarks, the aggregation of behavior over time or the breach of an agreement or house rule.
Initiation phase: the response when the conflict becomes overt which happens when at least one person makes known to the other that a conflict exists. This would be reacting to the stimulus or pointing out the breach of a house rule or understanding.
Differentiation phase: the stage where the conflict ripens and becomes obvious, such as through open disagreement and various tactics and strategies to escalate and de-escalate the conflict.
Resolution phase: the stage where the participants agree to some outcome. If the agreement satisfies all concerned it is considered a win-win. The resolution could be win lose or lose lose when people enter into destructive conflict cycles.
If you dissect a conflict you have experienced you will probably notice these various phases. Analyzing conflict helps you understand your hot buttons and patterns. If you develop a habit of conflict analysis you may be able to change your patterned responses to more productive ones in the future.