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Escalation and Mindfulness


Leo F. Smyth is a retired statutory lecturer at the J. E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at the National University of Ireland Galway. His e-mail address is


Escalation of conflict, the use of progressively more contentious tactics, is not always intended. It may occur when parties become preoccupied with ideas or feelings that impair their ability to comprehend the situation and focus on the conflict issues. Action springing from such preoccupation can initiate a set of feedback loops that are self-amplifying. In this article, I suggest that by raising their present moment awareness through formal meditation and informal day-to-day mindfulness practice, parties may reduce preoccupation and thereby amplification. Drawing on Friedrich Glasl's stages of escalation and Magorah Maruyama's work on change-amplifying feedback loops, this article examines how mindfulness might contribute to a greater awareness of psychological and systemic factors that predispose disputants to escalation of their conflict.