Stages of Conflict

If you have experienced or witnessed conflict you may have seen certain patterns that are common to a number of conflicts. Authors and researchers have proposed a number of models that describe the stages a conflict typically goes through. These models vary in the number of stages included and the labels used for each stage.

These models tend to be generic and try to apply to many situations from interpersonal to national conflicts. While each model may not reflect a specific situation it is useful to layout a series of stages so that we can find a common way of describing where a specific conflict is and what a process it is likely to follow.

The model in the diagram below was developed by Eric Braham and can be found on the Beyond Intractability website. In addition to labelling the stages it lays them out in terms of time and intensity.

Latent Conflict

This is the situation where there are differences of viewpoint and things that bother individuals or parts of a group, but these are not great enough to upset the status quo. This stage can also be described as “unstable peace”.

Conflict Emergence

Where a conflict has remained latent for a period of time, this stage marks the point that in emerges. Maybe due to a specific trigger or an increase in underlying tensions.

Conflict Escalation

During the escalation stage the intensity of a conflict increases and the way in which individuals and groups interact begins to divide them. It often means that points of view become more entrenched and polarised, and people start to take sides.

(Hurting) Stalemate

Once conflicts escalate for awhile, they often reach a stalemate: a situation in which neither side can win, but neither side wants to back down or accept loss either. In a situation between individuals or within a group this can be the stage where separation occurs.

De-escalation / Negotiation

All conflicts, no matter how decisive they appear, at some point move on. Having arrived at a stalemate and a situation that neither side can win, a shift of emphasis can occur that cools the tension and a willingness to move in a different direction emerges.

Dispute Settlement

As an intractable conflict comes to an end, the components of the conflict start to change. New or greatly changed collective identities become dominant. Grievances underlying the conflict are often reduced for one side, but to resolve the conflict, the other side's grievances must be minimized also. It doesn't work to satisfy one side, but increase the harm to the other.

Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

Even after a settlement is reached, this is by no means the end of the conflict. The settlement has to be implemented. The key to transforming conflict is to build strong equitable relations.

There is more information an each of these stages on the Beyond Intractability website.