We have already discussed that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but however, sometimes it’s not a good thing either. What happens when conflicts get past the possibly good and into the bad, and how does it happen? A model on how a conflict can escalate is the conflict staircase, made by Friedrich Glasl. In this model we can see how something that may have started out as an innocent disagreement can escalate into full time war. In his book Confronting conflict: a first aid kit for handling conflict Glasl uses more than 70 pages for describing the different stages, but I will try to make a little owerview here.


Conflict stairs


The reason for the steps going downwards is that it’s very easy to slip down a step, and most times not as easy to get back up.


Step 1: Discussion and argumentation

Here the parts are having a disagreement. They’re discussing or arguing, and try to find good arguments to support their own point of view.


Step 2: Debate and polarization

In this step the parts don’t listen that much to what the other part say, it’s more about winning the discussion. Different tactics get used to win or show that what the other part is saying is wrong or stupid.


Step 3: Steamrollering

Here the people having the conflict don’t see any point in talking to each other anymore, as they don’t think more talking can solve anything, and they don’t trust the other part to speak the truth. They see each other as competitors, and start to make up their own pictures and presumtions about the other part, based on and interpretations of what he, she or them say or do, without actually checking if it the interpretations are right. It becomes more important to hinder the other part to reach his goal, and to get one’s own goals through. One or both of the parts might take actions that are against the other parts will, while at the same time thinking that it is for the best, and that the other part surely will understand that too.


Step 4: Malicious picture

At this stage of the conflict the parts have made up a mean picture of the other, where the person or persons in question appears to be bad in all possible ways, and with no possibility of ever changing. They also put themselves in a much better light, and try to gather followers.


Step 5: Loosing face

In this step the parts try to make the other do something stupid or show themselves as incompetent in front of others that are not into the conflict. The picture of the other gets worse, and the picture of oneself gets even more glorified. The parts start to regard each other as non human.


Step 6: Strategic threats

Here the parts starts to put pressure on each other with serious threats, to make the other part do as they wish. It’s very easy to slip from this step to the next, because of the need to show that they are willing to carry out these threats. In personal conflicts here is where the parts might contact the police.


Step 7: Limited destruction

This far down the stairs the issue of the conflict is not important anymore. Now the only thing that matters is to hurt the enemy. All cares for ethical norms are cast aside, as the parts don’t see each other as human at all, and there is no longer any communication between the parts.


Step 8: Attack against nervecentra

Here the enemies try to attack each other where it would hurt the most, and they are aiming at destroying each other completely.


Step 9: Total destruction

This is the final stage, where the parts lose all concern for self-preservation. The urge to harm and kill the other part is so strong that it doesen’t matter what happens to oneself, as long as the enemy is destroyed in the process. There is no care for other people at all, as the parts see everybody as either for or against their side. Suicide bombing is a good illustration of this stage.