A conflict’s greatest opportunity for collaborative resolution is usually near the time it first occurred (if such a time can be known) or at least nearer the time it first entered your awareness.
Sometimes, the triggering event is clear and memorable. Sometimes it’s elusive, building under the radar over time, brick by brick, small frustration by small frustration.
Either way, the sooner you address it after the raw initial pain and anger have passed, the better. You want the rawness to have subsided enough that people can bring their better selves to the conversation, but not so much time to have passed that the ongoing tension creates an escalating conflict spiral.
The center of a conflict spiral is known as “schismogenesis,” a fancy word for “beginning of the rift.” The spiral grows outward the longer the conflict goes untended, widening the divide, increasing the emotional distance, and sometimes also increasing the number of people involved.
Conflict resolution specialists like me often get the call many months or even years after the schismogenesis. It’s reasonable and understandable that the individuals involved and management want a reasonable chance first to engage, untangle and resolve the conflict before seeking outside help.
The trick is to recognize a spiral early and develop hallmarks in your organizational conflict management system that will help you know when to keep working at it in-house and when it’s more resource-efficient and effective to seek outside help.
I’ve helped conflicts years in the making get untangled and those involved begin to rebuild the trust relationships they once had. But it’s harder by orders of magnitude when you wait a long time before getting the right help.
Hope just isn’t a good conflict resolution strategy.