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Conflict escalation is a process in which conflicts, either between individuals or groups, grow in severity.
Escalation can often proceed through stages where the conflict is initially only verbal, or legal, and can later progress into physical violence.
Our rules of communication are designed to facilitate ways of communicating that are less likely to escalate conflict, by curbing typical ways in which verbal conflicts escalate, such as exaggeration, negative characterization of the other party's intentions, or applying negative labels to people or groups. Following these rules does not guarantee that one will not escalate conflict by speaking or writing, but
Subjectivity of assessment of severity
Different people can have different ideas of the relative severity of different types of aggression. If both sides in a conflict have different scales of severity that govern their reactions, it is possible for one or both sides to act in such a way that they believe that they are de-escalating the conflict, but the other party sees the act as escalation. This can lead conflicts escalating even when both parties are trying to de-escalate.
Because of the subjectivity of assessment of severity, the best or most failsafe approach to preventing conflict escalation, when involved in a conflict, is to set your own response to aggression as low as possible.
Escalation as self-preservation
Sometimes, momentary escalation of a conflict can play the role of protecting a person, especially if it gets the attention of outsiders. For example, if a person is repeatedly overstepping a person's boundaries, like touching them in unwanted ways, and is not stopping in response to respectfully asking them to stop, yelling loudly at the person could get them to stop, either by leading them to stop of their own initiative, or leading other people nearby to get involved.