Conflict becomes confrontation when a person does something which angers or threatens another person.
Conflict can be resolved peacefully – but it’s when these situations are managed poorly that arguments escalate, respect for others disappears and communication becomes more difficult, resulting in aggression – and potentially – assault. Aggression and force may appear to make the problem go away initially, but they might not resolve the problem, and unresolved conflict can lead to further issues at a later date.

The two people in the diagram create conflict when one person accidentally knocks a drink out of other’s hand. The sketches show you how an incident can escalate into a confrontation.

  1. The person whose drink is spilled is angry and reacts spontaneously.
  2. He displays aggressive behaviour, much to the passer-by’s surprise.
  3. The passer-by responds to this aggression with hostility.
  4. The confrontation intensifies and results in threats being used.

In some situations, the initial source of conflict is completely forgotten about and new ones are created. In this example, the male was annoyed about the drink spillage, but as the situation progresses, his anger is inflamed by the lack of apology and respect. He might also be annoyed by the passer-by’s tone. The passer-by might be angry about the way he is being spoken to, despite the spillage being an accident. There are already four separate conflicts here – some might be more important than others, and prompt strong emotions and responses. It may also be important to address these new conflicts before the pair can resolve the initial one. For example, an apology for a disrespectful tone may be needed before the drink spillage can be settled.

Some people will deliberately escalate an argument to divert attention away from the initial conflict, or from themselves. In this scenario, the passer-by may want to avoid talking about the drink so that he doesn’t have to buy the person a new one. Intentional escalation is also used as a tool to deliberately provoke someone. It is possible that the passer-by deliberately knocked the drink over so that he could justify starting a fight. This is a tactic often used by bullies and in racist or homophobic abuse. It’s important not to react aggressively to this type of provocation.