Speed Leas shares five levels of conflict based on his own research into conflict management. In this post, we will look at these five steps in the context of the classroom.
Problem to Solve
The problem to solve is the lowest level of conflict. The level of conflict is so low that it is often not even perceived as conflict by those involved. The focus is generally on the problem rather than on the people involved. This encourages an objective stance and desire to solve the problem rather than attack each other.
In the classroom, a problem to solve level of conflict can involve minor disagreements between children or the teacher that are worked out quickly with a few moments of talk. For example, if a student takes another student’s personal belongings and returns them when asked, this is a simple problem to solve the conflict.
Disagreement leads to the realization that the parties involved have different opinions about what to do or think. With the threat of real conflict, possible people begin to take strategies to mitigate the risk. For example, they avoid speaking about the problem, or they do not share what they really think about the matter.
In the classroom, disagreements are common. Students may avoid telling a teacher about a problem with another student to avoid conflict. A teacher may ignore poor behavior to avoid conflict with the student or the student’s parents. Teachers may also try to avoid disagreement by not speaking about various problems at the school with each other or with the administration.
At the contest level, the goal is to win without necessarily hurting your opponent physically or emotionally. Things have escalated to proving that you are right at the expense of the other person. Therefore, things are still often intellectual in nature rather than raw emotion. Emotions are invited, such as fear and trust have broken down, yet things are out of control. Passive aggressiveness goes up; body language gets defensive, the tone of voice changes, and more.
In the classroom, students can argue over many things considered at the contest level of conflict. Examples can include who gets to use a particular item, who was first, who won the game, who cheated, etc. It can also involve demands for apologies for behavior.
Fighting involves hurting the other person without being hurt. It is about being right at the expense of the other person being wrong. Here things can start to get messy and even dangerous in some situations. Both parties see the other’s actions as aggressive. The goal is to get the other person to give up so that one side can declare victory.
This is where the classic playground fight comes in as an example. Both sides are posturing, hoping that the other side gives up so that it never actually becomes physical. There is no discussion, there is no trust, and the goal no is victory at the expense of the other person. It is now a zero-sum game.
At this final stage, the result is mutual destruction of the relationship and people involved. The destruction does not have to be physical; it can also be emotional, financial, reputation, etc. The people involve separate after a bitter conflict with a long road towards reconciliation. Even with separation, passive-aggressive swipes may continue as those found in soap operas.
This level of conflict is found in high school and beyond. At this level, conflicts harden into wars of attritions. Students also begin to master the art of manipulating each other for political gain. Rumors, gossip, and jealousy, all things foreign to small children, begin to manifest among teenagers. This naturally implies that this level of conflict happens among teachers as well. Indeed, teachers frequently argue amongst each other and fight over resources. There can even be wars between departments over resources that can be highly toxic.
The ultimate goal of dealing with conflict is generally to keep it at level one or bring it back to level one. This means dealing with problems when they are small and harmless or letting them grow until it destroys a relationship. Strategies that can help deal with conflict include communication, finding mediators, and negotiating. Conflict is a part of life, and people must learn to deal with it rather than ignore it.