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Escalation: A Failure of Sorts (Revised: 11/12/14)



The word “escalation” is used as a threat in many organizations.  The reason that this term is often communicated as a weapon is that individuals will use an escalation to yield a desired result --- if action isn’t taken to meet an individual’s needs.  However, escalation shouldn’t be used as a threat. Escalation – instead – should be used as a final invitation to negotiate prior to moving an issue to the next level for review.

Escalation is a failure; a failure of individuals to communicate or resolve an issue at the working level of the involved parties.  Therefore, individuals involved in conflict should actively attempt to understand others’ viewpoint(s) prior to an escalation, which will help each side to identify, analyze, and address potential negotiating points to move past a stalemate.

Additional actions that should be taken prior to an escalation:
​​1) Meet privately with significantly impacted parties to understand the issue(s) that prevent an agreement from being reached.
2) Ensure confidentiality of the discussion(s) by agreeing to only release the substance of the conversation.  This is an important process step to properly set expectations, along with an ability to engage in open and honest communication.  Then, don’t release any information related to personal feelings or beliefs shared during the discussion, as it will be very difficult to regain or maintain future trust.
3) Seek to understand the issue(s) that prevent agreement without aligning with any particular individual(s) or position(s);
4) Identify any concern(s) or sticking point(s) that may be critical to a solution’s development.  Then, explore these points further to identify any opportunities for compromise.  The objective is to identify the source(s) of the conflict and determine ways to minimize, eliminate, or overcome any objection(s).
5) Develop a list of potential holding points, trade-offs, or concessions.  This is a list of items that individuals aren’t willing to negotiate, might be willing to compromise with additional discussion, or might be willing to remove the objection(s), respectively.
6) Once the positions are understood, this information can be used to develop potential options based on compromise.  The goal isn’t to – necessarily – obtain everything an individual might want to feel whole.  The objective should be to move individuals closer to a mutually beneficial solution, which is a critical step to reach a solution prior to escalation.
7) Whether or not there is an agreement reached, acknowledge and thank the individual(s) for their contribution(s).  However, it’s important that nobody gloats about any position(s) succeeded by others during negotiations, as this may damage an ability to reach future agreements based on compromise.
8) If an agreement still cannot be reached, the issue might need to be reviewed by the next level to resolve a stalemate.

Regardless of the outcome, extra effort should be exerted to resolve issues at a working level --- as these types of negotiations are beneficial to resolve future conflicts.  Furthermore, conflicts that use this process can be leveraged to develop long-term, cooperative, and mutually beneficial working relationships.