One of the helpful definitions of conflict () points out that there are always be three elements which interact when conflict gets inflamed and becomes damaging.
1. There is always a real substantive issue over which people disagree. We call this the contradiction. Hidden under this will be a complex array of needs, interests and values which feed the disagreement. For conflict to be dealt with these need to be understood. However it is always a mistake to assume that conflict is simply about issues, the attitudes and behaviour of the parties involved also contribute to what we call conflict.
2. The second element of any hurtful conflict is some kind of negative or dysfunctional attitude toward conflict itself (avoidance or insistence on prevailing), toward the issues (these don’t matter or are of primary importance) or toward those in the opposing party (they don’t matter, or must be appeased). These problematic attitudes usually (but not always) give rise to the third element of conflict, behaviour.
3. For a conflict to be hurtful there is a diimension of actual negative behaviour which is present. This may involve painful exchanges, aggression, damaging emotional attacks or it might involve dismissive and rejecting behaviours (silence and lock-outs).
It is important in any conflict to isolate the ABCs (attitudes, behaviours, and contradictions) and deal with them independently, behaviours first, attitudes second and contradictions last.
Behaviours may need an apology offered and received, attitudes may need a renewing of the mind and contradictions may need to carefully and safely addressed.