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Smaller conflicts are part of everyday life. However, if they become larger, escalate, all employees have the opportunity and the right to receive support and advice. In a social structure like the University with many hierarchical structures, it is important that no one remains unheard or is overheard.

The following information was provided to us by the Psychosocial Counseling Service, Ms. Stienkemeier-Tisch and Ms. Portscht.


What is meant by a conflict?

KonflikteA social conflict is an interaction between two or more people where at least one person experiences incompatibilities in thinking/imagining/perceiving and/or feeling or wanting with the other person in a way that affects him or her.

Conflicts can imply the important information that change is needed. After conflict resolution, this can allow for improved interactions.

Since conflicts do not always just disappear into thin air, you can find information on the topic of conflicts below (for dealing with them constructively).


Getting to the root of the problems ...

KonflikteEvery conflict is different. In order to understand conflicts better, to deal with them well, to work on them and to find a solution, it is useful to first get an idea of what the subject of the conflict is or what could be behind the conflict and to probe the causes. This knowledge can be useful for dealing with conflicts in practice.


Types of conflicts:

  • Change conflicts:

They can arise through restructuring, through new tasks and requirements. And, of course, also when new things (e.g. programs) are introduced or processes are changed.

  • Distribution conflicts:

This type of conflict is about the struggle for appreciation and resources. Such conflicts arise when employees feel unfairly treated or disadvantaged, for example, with regard to their equipment or the flow of communication and information. Even if colleagues have privileges in their department, this can lead to a distribution conflict.

  • Target conflicts:

They occur when there are opposites in intentions or interests: for one, when there is disagreement about goals or, when there is disagreement about how a goal should be achieved.

  • Relationship conflicts:

They can arise when the "chemistry" is not right and there is antipathy and lack of understanding of behaviors or beliefs and values of the other person(s). Because people are very different from each other and often encounter a wide variety of people in the work context, relationship conflicts are common.

  • Role conflicts:

Role conflicts also occur relatively often, because each of us has several social roles and functions: We are a manager and a member of a team, we are a colleague and a project manager, we are an administrative employee and a staff councilor, we are an employee and a mother or father. The different roles often intersect in everyday work and the different expectations are difficult or impossible to fulfill.

Role conflicts can also torment us internally without others being visibly involved in this conflict: e.g. in our roles as an employee, colleague, partner, parent, friend ... namely when we feel we are not doing justice to one or the other role.

  • Power conflicts:

They arise when there is disagreement about positions and competencies or the distribution of power and dominance is perceived unequal.

  • Value conflicts:

All of us have values that we have learned and developed over the course of our lives. We have opinions about what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. When there is disagreement about basic attitudes and different stances, e.g. on politics, on how to deal with refugees, or on environmental issues, "worlds" can collide and conflicts can develop.


What mistakes and pitfalls can occur when dealing with conflicts?

  • Conflicts are not addressed at first, but swept under the carpet; a confrontation is avoided "for the sake of peace".
  • The situation might be trivialized, ignored, instrumentalized in one's own interest, rationalized, or tolerated.
  • The attempt to resolve the conflict is only made on the factual level. Offenses and feelings are not addressed, ignored or covered up.
  • Conflict solutions are postponed, according to the motto: "Time will tell".


How conflicts can develop - escalation dynamics

If a conflict is not resolved at an early stage, there is a risk that it will gain momentum, become more and more intense and will finally escalate. This can build up over weeks and months. A multi-stage model tries to describe this conflict escalation and also gives recommendations on what can be helpful at which stage.


Phase I

1. Hardening
2. Debate, polemic
3. Actions instead of words

Constructive conflict resolution is likely
→ win-win


Phase II

4. Images and coalitions
5. Loss of face
6. Threatening strategies

Constructive conflict resolution is more difficult, from stage 5, professional help is recommended
→ win-lose


Phase III

7. Limited destructive blows
8. Fragmentation
9. Together into the abyss

Dead end …
→ lose-lose


Possible conflict development - conflict escalation 

  • Tensions arise, the conviction to find solutions together in discussions still prevails.
  • Opinions diverge more and more, but there is still hope to solve the problem through discussion. However: the fronts harden.
  • Mutual recriminations occur; suspicions are expressed; mistrust arises; a rival attitude becomes dominant.
  • There are more and more points of contention, simplifications, and "black and white thinking", one becomes superficial and distances oneself from the issue.
  • Factual and personal motives are mixed, cause and effect become blurred; "How did it actually start?“
  • Personification increases (she/he is to blame), the actual matter fades into the background; third parties are consulted, parties are formed.

  • There are mutual provocations and threats, possibly even damage to property and assaults.
  • Now it is only about winning (even at the price of self-destruction), the other side is objectified, "together into the abyss".