Exploring Glasl’s Model of Conflict Resolution

You’ve done well at honing your skills as a Scrum Master, mastering the art of cross-functional self-managing teams, overcoming obstacles and delivering a quality product in time. But what happens when conflict arises within your team? The answer lies within a highly effective conflict management model, first introduced by a man named Friedrich Glasl. For Scrum Masters seeking to boost their toolbox with some heavyweight conflict resolution strategies, Glasl’s model of conflict escalation is an invaluable tool.

Who was Friedrich Glasl? You might ask. He’s a Dutch psychologist who devoted much of his career to the study of group dynamics and conflict management. He is best known for his work on conflict escalation, and the model he developed – Glasl’s conflict escalation model – is recognised widely for its practicality and effectiveness.

“Conflicts are nothing but potential energy sources for necessary transformations and ruptures in order to advance with human progress.”

– Friedrich Glasl

As a Scrum Master, you often hold the responsibility of facilitating the conflict resolution process. By integrating Glasl’s Model into your approach, you can transition from a good Scrum Master to an exceptional one. Over the course of this piece, we will take an in-depth look at Glasl’s conflict resolution model, its extractions, its applications, and how it can serve you as essential cogs in your conflict management machinery. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Understanding Glasl’s Model

Looking to bolster your conflict resolution strategies? You might find a powerful ally in Glasl’s model. This tool, developed by the Austrian conflict researcher Friedrich Glasl, explores conflict escalation, providing a deeper understanding and hence paving the way for targeted and effective resolutions. An essential preliminary step to using the model is to grasp Glasl’s definition of conflict: “An interaction between agents where at least one agent perceives incompatibilities between his/her thinking/ideas/perceptions and/or feelings and/or will and that of the other agent and feels restricted by the other’s action.”

Glasl’s Nine Levels of Escalation

Glasl’s model frames the escalation of a conflict not as an upward climb but rather as a descent – a troublesome trajectory leading downwards. This path is divided into nine stages, each representing a progressively more intense level of conflict.

To fathom the intricacies of this approach, let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of each level. The first three stages primarily depict conflicts where the parties still harbour the desire to resolve the dispute amicably. By the fourth to sixth stage, the conflict has escalated to a point where the agent’s focus shifts from achieving personal success to making the other party fail. In the final three stages, the struggle reaches its peak, and the parties may even destroy themselves to eliminate the opponent.

Here’s a comprehensive overview of the levels in Glasl’s conflict resolution model:

  1. Hardening: This is the beginning of disagreement where parties involved become aware of the conflict yet are optimistic about its resolution.
  2. Debates and Polemics: At this stage, the parties attempt to defend their positions fiercely, with the hope that they can persuade the other side.
  3. Actions, not Words: Here, dialogue takes a back seat, and parties attempt to achieve their objectives through their conduct instead.
  4. Images and Coalitions: At this juncture, parties start developing negative images of each other and gather support against one another, making the resolution increasingly complex.
  5. Loss of Face: This is where things get personal. The parties’ main aim is to degrade their opponent, resulting in a significant loss of face.
  6. Strategies for Threat: The conflict elevates to the point where threats and ultimatums become the communication mode, potentially causing irreversible harm to relationships.
  7. Limited Destruction: Now, parties focus on damaging their opponent — even if it means incurring some collateral damage themselves.
  8. Fragments of Annihilation: The conflict has escalated so intensely that the parties now seek to annihilate each other’s reputation, credibility or capabilities.
  9. Together into the Abyss: The final stage, where parties are willing to face mutual destruction for the obliteration of their opponent.

Note: The objective of understanding these stages is to identify the level of conflict and adopt an appropriate resolution strategy, not to escalate the situation with every step.

Applicability of Glasl’s Model

You’re wondering, ‘How can this model support my role as Scrum Master?’ Well, the detailed mapping of conflict intensity enables you to pinpoint the escalation level of specific confrontations. By recognising the magnitude of a conflict, you can respond accurately, equipping your team with the necessary resources and strategies for realignment. Glasl’s model is both a diagnostic and a roadmap, aiding you in identifying the conflict and guiding you on your path to resolution.

If you’re not dealing with an active conflict scenario, don’t shelve Glasl’s model just yet! It comes in handy in preparing your team for potential conflicts, training them to recognise and disrupt escalation scenarios, and promoting healthy conflict resolution within the team.

Understanding the model, applying it, and adapting it to your unique context – all of these pave the way towards enhanced conflict management. Channel your efforts in the right direction, and you’ll soon note a marked improvement in how conflicts within your team are handled and resolved.

Win-Win Levels of Conflict

This is the initial stage of the conflict, denoted by tension and debate before descending into a full-blown disagreement. The aim at this stage is to ensure that each party’s viewpoint is understood, harbouring collaboration and co-creation. Being able to recognise and de-escalate conflicts at this level is critical to maintaining the collaborative and constructive dynamics of your scrum team.

Level 1: Hardening (Tension)

The tension in the room begins to mount, and the air grows palpably thick, a veritable lightning rod for conflict. The unmistakable transformation has started. Good-natured ribbing and customary respect transition to defensive standing and hardened positions. At this juncture, as a distinguished facilitator, it’s your prerogative to:

  • Interpret the silent screams: The volume of the once-capacious room drowns in hushed one-on-one discussions mirroring their disparity; body language becomes an inadvertent testament to divisions; gentle disagreement tiptoes behind veils of diplomacy, and compromise shrinks on an island of obstinacy.
  • Steer back towards calmer waters: Boldly offer the rope of open dialogue that can pull the sinking ship ashore, actively seek and address issues with the intensity of the Greek oracle, shore up the dam before it breaks – remind them their goals are shared, not antithetical, pour forth empathy into the growing chasm between them.

Level 2: Debate

At this stage, the pendulum of polarisation swings harder, putting dissenting voices at the forefront. Despite the white-hot tension of discord, parties tenaciously clutch onto the robes of functional relationships. In your role as a mediator, you should certainly consider the following actions:

  • Be vigilant for the signs: Keep an eye out for vigorous debates that, like a tempest, may suddenly flare up; observe ‘taking sides’ as if in a grand game of chess; watch out for attempts to lobby and persuade; keep track of recounting tales of past disagreements like a seasoned historian.
  • Act as a pacifier: Set down law-order with rules for civilised discourse, work like a wordsmith to foster non-confrontational language, like a lighthouse in a storm, focus on the common ground that binds rather than separates, and manage the treacherous terrain of power dynamics.

Level 3: Actions, not Words

As we delve deeper into the visceral heart of conflict escalation, actions audaciously shove dialogues to the backseat. Individuals become hardened gladiators, hell-bent on defending their standpoints, completely overlooking the vibrancy of conversation. Here, you need to dig deep into your arsenal of conflict resolution in exchange for bold, timely intervention. So, what’s on the checklist?

  • Become the Human Radar: Identify unilateral, adamant decisions tossed around like confetti. Spot the dismissive gestures brushing aside diverse viewpoints. These tell-tale signs shouldn’t escape your vigilant gaze.
  • Master the Art of Deescalation: Foster an atmosphere of trust where expression flourishes, not flounders. Expertly morph confrontation scenes into collaborative problem-solving rendezvous. Don’t hesitate to tap into the wisdom of upper management when tensions threaten to skyrocket.

Win-Lose Levels of Conflict

As conflict intensifies, it moves into the realm of ‘win-lose’. This is where one party seeks to win at the expense of the other and is highlighted in the second tranche of Glasl’s model. This is marked by ‘debate’, ‘coalition’ and ‘threat’, each carrying unique tell-tale signs and responses necessary for de-escalation. Let’s delve deep into these complexities.

Within the turbulent domain of ‘win-lose’, Glasl introduces us to the second tier of his model – ‘coalitions’, ‘loss of face’, and ‘strategies for threat’. These three, though distinct, are intimately linked, feeding off each other as discontent swells. By understanding each level in detail, including their tell-tale signs and appropriate responses, we can proactively defuse brewing tension before it morphs into full-blown conflict. So, are you ready to expand your toolbox with these valuable facets of Glasl’s model?

Level 4: Images and Coalitions

Let’s journey into the heart of conflict, where the battle cry sounds, and the realm of the ‘win-lose’ paradigm takes root. Here, you’ll find ‘Coalitions’ being hastily assembled as comrades rally against a shared adversary. It’s a fascinating dynamic which, superficially, may give an illusion of unity, but in reality, this is a flagrant breeding ground for division, instigating a divisive ‘us against them’ psyche.

As a Scrum Master, these murky waters are your arena. Your mission? To defuse potential powder kegs of tension by nurturing an atmosphere of ‘us’. How? By championing open dialogue, endorsing clear understanding, and campaigning for just and fair processes.

After all, wouldn’t you agree that unity worth having is unity that should never be bought at the expense of division?

Level 5: Loss of Face

Plunging deeper into the tumultuous terrain of conflict, we stumble upon the realm known as ‘Loss of Face’. We’re no longer in the realm of logical disagreements but have crossed over into the war zones of personal attacks. At this juncture, individuals become fraught with the fear of public humiliation, instinctively withdrawing further into their shells of defensiveness. The fallout could manifest as simmering passive aggression or no-holds-barred confrontations. To reverse this escalating tide, steer the discussions back towards the issue at hand—not the individual involved. Restore their confidence in transparent dialogue and forthright communication.

However, always bear in mind that your minor misstep could catalyse a significant downward spiral for another. Quite like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, isn’t it?

Level 6: Strategies for Threat

Finally, as we navigate the treacherous waters of Glasl’s ‘win-lose’ domain, we encounter ‘Strategies for Threat’. This isn’t a stage for the faint-hearted. Here, threats reign supreme, and conversation hangs by a thread. Filled with turbulence and brimming with negative energy, this zone is often punctuated by ultimatums and unyielding stances. It’s up to you, as facilitators, to lay down the rules of respect and remind everyone that the destination is resolution, not simply triumph.

However, when you’re up against threats, displaying resilience isn’t about being defiant. Instead, it calls for embodying dignity amidst adversity. You’re establishing a precedent – not for combat, but for poise under pressure.

Lose-Lose Levels of Conflict

In the labyrinth of disputes, Glasl’s model of conflict resolution shines like a beacon. Among its intriguing provisions, the most drastic are the lose-lose levels of conflict: Limited Destruction, Fragments of Annihilation, and Together into the Abyss. These terminal phases underscore the grim reality that without intervention, conflicts can spiral out of control with devastating consequential fallout.

Level 7: Limited Destruction

When we arrive at this stage, conflict parties toss aside any notions of collective gains and instead concentrate their energies in weaving webs of damage against each other – however, with certain limitations etched in place. This slippery slope can be likened to a point of no return. Your primary concern, therefore, is to put the brakes on any further escalation of tensions.

  • Warning bells: Dark clouds start to gather when negative interactions become the new normal. Pay attention to signs of avoidance, deepening strife often marinated in personal grudges rather than genuine professional disagreements.
  • Tackling the storm: As the facilitator, your role is to appeal to the saner side of the parties involved. Make them see the senselessness in steering towards self-destruction. To do this, consider bringing an independent third-party mediator into the picture to help establish neutral, safe communication grounds.

Level 8: Fragments of Annihilation

At this extreme pinnacle, you find yourself immersed in an atmosphere of relentless warfare, an unyielding duel where the only motive is the annihilation of the opponent. Traditional borders dissolve at this juncture, victims of the uncontrolled competition for dominance.

  • Indicators: Pervasive signs of this zenith include a complete communication blackout, concerted actions deviating towards the obliteration of the rival party, and unrestrained competitiveness spiralling into chaos.
  • Resolution Strategies: In such grave states of play, a volte-face becomes indispensable. The urgency for an external party’s intervention mushrooms, not merely to mediate the unfolding scene but quite possibly to pass judgment on the issues at hand.

Level 9: Together into the Abyss

Imagine a scenario where both parties are resolved to see the other’s undoing. Symbolised by the sentiment ‘If I must plummet, you’re plunging with me’, this level is the embodiment of a double-edged disaster. Here, the acceptance of a catastrophic conclusion plays the leading role.

  • Indicators: The signs include utter disregard for collective repercussions, a willingness to embrace an apocalyptic finale, along with a dominant surge of nihilistic feelings.
  • Tactics for Facilitation: At this stage, measures that could function as a dramatic ‘game-changer’ are obligatory. Interventions should strive to disentangle, if not defuse, the conflict. If not, tactfully ushering in a controlled resolution might become the final recourse.

This model is not a diagnosis tool. Its intention is to help you understand the progression of conflict, providing insight into the parties’ mental state and their relative power. Utilising this understanding, conflict resolution can be tailored to the particular stage of conflict. Finding the heart of the problem and applying the right technique can turn a lose-lose situation into a win-win one.

Conclusion: Empowering Scrum Masters with Glasl’s Model

Understanding conflict and its intricacies is vital for any Scrum Master; the need to persevere and strategically approach discord directly impacts the overall productivity of your team. Glasl’s model of conflict resolution allows for just that. It offers a systematic lens to assess and address conflicts, minimising their destructive impact and, more importantly, using them as catalysts for growth and transformative dialogue. You gain the knowledge required to identify the level at which the conflict is situated, providing you with insights into the mindsets and behaviours prevalent in that stage.

Imagine the empowerment this brings to Scrum Masters as they help teams navigate the turbulent waters of complex work, dealing with a diverse range of conflicting situations. Think about the way this understanding empowers you, equipping you with more than a heuristic approach to conflicts. Instead, you’re provided with a strategic map guiding you through the labyrinth of conflicts, preparing you for the escalation that may occur along the way.

Moreover, incorporating Glasl’s model in your toolbox promotes a paradigm shift in how you perceive conflicts. No longer are they seen strictly as setbacks or deterrents; they become an opportunity for transformation and growth. By using Glasl’s model, you are facilitating not only conflict resolution but also a more profound understanding of its dynamics, enabling you to anticipate potential issues and act proactively.

So, as a Scrum Master, it’s time to embrace Glasl’s model of conflict resolution. It’s time to deepen your understanding and broaden your approach to conflicts, to take them head-on with assurance and strategy. Remember, conflicts are inevitable, and they will escalate, but if armed with the right tools – like Glasl’s model – they become less daunting.

Ultimately, Glasl’s model isn’t just about managing conflicts; it’s about learning, growing, and developing as a Scrum Master and as a team. It is about empowering you to handle disagreements with confidence and strategic foresight, turning conflicts into exciting opportunities for growth. Now, isn’t that a tool worth adding to your toolbox?

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.
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