Recognising Signs and Stages of Conflict Escalation | Little Green Button

The workplace should always be a safe environment for those that work there. Conflict exists everywhere, and the workplace is no exception. Differing personalities, styles of work, and personal values or beliefs can all lead to conflict between individuals. Many work environments are high-stress. In these situations, there is always some risk of potential conflict. Unfortunately, conflicts will arise during working life, and employees may find themselves in challenging or uncomfortable situations when facing them. Though conflict will always exist in the workplace, what should an employee do?

The Five Stages of Conflict

There are five stages of a conflict, and within each, there are two ways to recognize a problem building.

1. Problem to Solve

  • Collaboration and sharing
  • A fact-based language that is open

2. Disagreement

  • Language becomes guarded
  • People become protective over their collaboration and input

3. Contest

  • Personally attacking language 
  • Winning becomes more critical than resolution

4. Crusade

  • Language becomes ideological
  • Protecting cliques becomes more critical (us VS them)

5. World War

  • Short language used, if any
  • The mission is to destroy the other side, and resolution is not a consideration.

De-escalation is essential and is typically easier earlier in the stages of conflict; the longer the situation drags on, the more heated and violent it might be.


Understanding the Signs of Impending Conflict

It simply isn’t enough to rely solely on individuals reporting conflict. Managers must be able to detect the potential signs of impending conflict, acting quickly to prevent situations from getting worse.

The most effective conflict recognition and resolution method is first to recognize a situation and maintain proactivity to handle the issue before it starts. Here are some of the various stages of conflict analysis:

Determining Body Language

Analysing body language is one of the most common and effective methods to tell if something isn’t right in the working environment. People typically don’t realise the body language they subconsciously adapt. Focusing on these nuances can prove critical to recognize if workers are facing problems.

Aggressive body language is easy to spot, as aggressors commonly show physical indicators like widened shoulders, frowns, or crossed arms. Other signs like shifting weight, nervous appearance, darting eyes, and perspiration may indicate that someone could take further action that could place employees in danger.

Detecting Behavioural Changes

Changes in normal behaviour indicate that something may be wrong. When an individual becomes withdrawn, quiet, moody, or stops contributing to a conversation, this can indicate that they face an issue. Managers can encourage employees to look for signs of withdrawal in interactions.

Nonetheless, it remains important that workers be kind and use gentle language that may help diffuse the situation by making clients feel heard, cared for, and safe. Acting in this way also presents an excellent opportunity to ask clients if they understand what the employee is telling them while opening up the floor for the customer to speak out about their concerns.

Understanding Words or Comments

The way people express themselves verbally can serve as a clear view of a potential conflict about to take place. When people become upset, they may make “cutting” comments, use rude or vulgar language, or become more emotive overall, signalling the panic alarm.

Under these circumstances, employees can quickly feel overwhelmed, inadequate, hurt, and stressed. Encouraging workers to remain calm while trying to be helpful can help encourage customers to return, possibly even turning a negative situation around entirely.

Employees should also look out for one another when working a shift. Workers feel more secure knowing they have someone else at their back should an interaction turn problematic. Furthermore, encouraging employees to work as a team by covering each other’s backs and supporting one another can help management build a strong and compassionate team.

After tough interchanges, employees that work with difficult individuals may need to gather their fortitude once the client leaves the building. Although it isn’t ideally beneficial for workers to sit around for 20 minutes at a time when they have jobs and tasks to accomplish, understanding when stressed employees need to rest and reset is an example of great management.


De-Escalating Conflict Situations

Learning the steps to de-escalate conflict is a skill and something that comes more naturally to some than others. However, it can prevent a situation from evolving into something more harmful to workers and others around them. 

Active Listening 

Listen to the problem at hand. Customers often wish to be listened to; for example, they may want to vent their frustrations about the right size shirt not being in stock even though they know there is nothing the employee can do. Give them a moment. Sometimes, customers just need to talk to someone, especially if they have had a busy or lonely day.

You may find that customers already have a solution in mind for their problem. Actively listen, don’t interrupt, and clarify if you need to.


When someone is presenting aggressively, it is essential to stay confident and polite and not match their anger in response.

Calm Demeanour

If the conflict goes further into the stages outlined above, listening to someone attack you can be challenging. Take a deep breath, and keep calm. You need to look past their outburst and find the root of the problem. 


Repeat the issue to the customer or client as they explain it to you. Mirroring will help convey that you have listened, understood, and are ready to take action on their behalf (or help them resolve the issue).

Preparing for the Inevitable | Handling Conflict Situations

Conflict has the opportunity to strengthen an organization overall. Unfortunately, these circumstances can also impose detrimental effects on workplace culture and productivity when not managed appropriately.

When tensions grow high, empathetic intervention, strong communication, and the proper training and tools go a long way to resolving conflicts optimally. However, in conflict situations, it isn’t always easy to signal for assistance from others.

Nevertheless, managers can strengthen their team when facing conflict situations by taking prerequisite steps to train and equip workers for success. Intervention from technology makes this far easier with tools like discreet radio earpieces and discreet panic button security systems. These tools enable employees to signal when they need help or information, strengthening a business as a whole.

Little Green Button is a company that focuses on and commits to the well-being and safety of all our customers. This began with the healthcare sector in mind, with things soon becoming apparent as a great need for discreet panic alarm security systems in any environment dealing with members of the public.

As a result, we retooled our technology, adapting it to suit various situations where individuals working on their own could benefit from signalling a colleague in situations that may cause them concern.