I am not aware that any great thinker has tackled this issue but here goes my own version of the ways to avoid the destructive escalation of conflict. Assuming someone has done something negative towards you:
- Get real about the situation you face, what has happened as precisely as you can, before wading into deciding how to act
- Get clear about your interests that are at stake on the issue concerned and with the other parties involved so that any action including retaliation or escalation takes place against a clear understanding of how it might affect your interests
- If someone has acted against you, consider if the action was deliberate and try to calibrate it as if it was an action you had taken against them
- Ask them what they intended: ‘was that a put down?”
- Consider if there is anyone who is respected by both parties could act as someone to unpick or mediate the situation before it goes out of control
- If you are clear that the negative action was intended and response is unavoidable, then consider what a proportionate reaction would be
- Consider a range of ‘what ifs’ around your possible reaction
- Figure out how the other side is likely to react to your reaction before making it: what do continuing rounds of ‘tit for tat’ look like?
- Specifically think hard as to whether there is a game changing reaction you could make that would demolish the escalatory structure that is in the making?
- Whatever happens, learn from it by conducting an After Action Review of what went well, not so well, so you know what to do better next time