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The Tension Stage of Conflict

The Tension Stage of Conflict

Author: Sophia Tutorial

Identify the characteristics of the tension stage of conflict.

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The air is really tense. It's almost impossible to communicate. This is the tension stage of conflict. And I'm Marlene, and I'd like to talk with you about that stage of conflict in today's tutorial.

But first let's look at the stages of conflict in general. There's many ways you can discuss conflict and look at those stages. But in general, everybody agrees there's three broad phases. The pre-conflict stage, which is that stage where something might be brewing, but you're not really aware of it at this point. Followed by the conflict stage, and within the conflict stage there are several stages within that. And then, of course, post-conflict, which is after the conflict has been resolved.

Now within the conflict stage itself, it starts with discomfort. And discomfort is that vague feeling you have that something's wrong, but you're not quite sure what. Followed by the incident stage, this is where something happens, major or minor. And all of a sudden, it's really out in the open now. The conflict is out in the open. And that's often followed by misunderstanding. And the misunderstanding stage leads to tension.

I'd like to talk about that tension stage of conflict today. So let's define that stage. The tension stage of conflict is the stage of conflict in which parties find communication with each other difficult or impossible, consistently attribute negative motives and traits to each other, and may attempt to enlist allies. So let's look at how this might manifest in a conflict.

Susan is having a conflict with her siblings over what to do with their elderly father. He's been living in the family home, and for years that seems to have been coming along OK. She's been checking on him every week. Sometimes she's been making meals for him. But recently, he fell. And she's had a talk with his doctor, and she feels like maybe it's time for him to move out of the home. And her brother agrees with her, but her other two sisters do not agree.

And when they've sat down to discuss this, it's become more and more tense. And it's at the point now where they're talking with one another, the ones who agree, and they can't seem to talk to each other. And Susan's feeling as though she can't even be heard and nobody understands the care she's been giving. She's been closest to the situation.

And things have just unraveled. And she feels the only person she can talk to here is John, the one brother who understands. So the tension is building because of this family dilemma. What do we do with dad? And her dad doesn't want to move, which of course makes it even more difficult to discuss with her siblings. So that's one example.

Another example, at work, you may be working on a project at work. And it's not going that well, and you believe it's because the team member that you're working with wants to rush things. And he get things wrong, and you have to go back and redo them. So you would like to take your time.

You're being accused here of wasting time. But you feel as though things need to be checked. You have an actual process. You work a lot differently than your co-worker, who seems to fly by the seat of her pants. And you're not quite sure how she's going to get this project done if she doesn't follow the protocol.

And you've been talking to others on the team who agree with you, and you just realize that she's been talking to other people. In fact, you just saw an email that she sent where she said some very negative things about you. And now you don't even want to talk with her. It's becoming uncomfortable to go to work. You don't know how you'll get the project done.

So these are a couple of examples of how tension can build in a conflict. Now it's important to remember that in conflict that stages can escalate or de-escalate back and forth here between tension, to misunderstanding, to discomfort. But it's always good to address the conflict at the earliest possible stage.

So if the conflict has not yet been addressed, let's look at what it might look like in the tension stage. At this stage, if it really is difficult to even talk about something with the parties you're in conflict with, you may decide you need some outside help.

In this case, Susan decided to bring in the family clergyman and ask if he would sit down with the family and facilitate a discussion. Things had become so tense, it was impossible for them to get together in the same room. So she asked the clergyman if he would come and facilitate that discussion, which really allowed each of the siblings to voice their feelings here. And they were able to clear the air.

At work, you might decide, I think I need to talk with the team leader here about the project. Maybe we need to step back and really bring the team leader in here to talk about my concerns. That might be a way of stepping in at this point during the tension stage of conflict.

So thank you for being part of this tutorial. I look forward to seeing you next time.

Terms to Know
tension stage

The stage of conflict in which parties find communication with each other difficult or impossible, consistently attribute negative motives and traits to each other, and may attempt to enlist allies.