Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s Five Stages of Dying and Death Applied to Conflict

I often think that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s (1926-2004) Five Stages of Dying and Death (see her ‘On Death and Dying’) apply quite well to conflict too:

  1. Denial: Because we are conflict averse, we start by denying we are in conflict, and it takes a bit of getting used to the idea that we are and have to face it/handle it. We pretend all is well until the conflict festering has made it undeniably in need of facing.
  2. Anger: Conflict often makes us angry, though of course this anger can be a cover for a range of feelings including fear, disorientation, guilt, as well as anger. We need to surface this emotion of anger, without pointing it at others or ourselves, and find out what it is about and what it is telling us.
  3. Bargaining: This is the stage everyone associates with the word ‘conflict’ and is something we are generally not very good at, which is why the previous two stages can take some time. We also don’t see many difficult situations as containing the potential to bargain. And because we don’t use systematic conflict processes we may move on without resolution to:
  4. Depression: As we have postponed facing conflict until it is harder to resolve, and are not very good at bargaining, we often end up depressed at how difficult it is. We focus on how rotten our fellow humans/the other side is, rather than looking at our process for handling conflict and seeing if it is of any use, rather than playing the blame game or feeling depressed. If our process or lack of it is the real problem, find a better conflict process via the next step:
  5. Acceptance: as Heraclitus said: life is conflict: ‘We must know that war (polemos) is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being through strife necessarily’. Without conflict, we would be dead or frozen into immobility. So ‘get over it‘, ‘this is what it is‘, accept and even adapt:
  6. Adaptation. Not one of her stages, but when the change we face is not death, but in our life, then adaptation, actually handling conflict better is perhaps the next stage. And using a good conflict process discipline mindfully as per this blog’s Creative Conflict Model or anyone else’s would be a good adaptation. We don’t think we are the font of all wisdom on conflict. And then you might not have to die in a pointless conflict……or waste your time in draining, depressing conflict and actually build better relations with other humans? Now there’s a thought….

This is Elisabeth ; more about her and her model at:


She probably would have liked this You Tube ‘post modernist’ take on her work. I understand no giraffes were hurt in the making of this cartoon, and the giraffe was freed without injury, thought did suffer some minor loss of dignity, as the price of some personal growth. 🙂



About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Humor, Conflict Movies, Conflict Processes, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, The Conflict Model, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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