There are many situations in which you may be called to mediate among people who are in conflict and unable to resolve it. In other cases, you may be the one who is experiencing a conflict that seems to be getting out of control or be the recipient of aggressive behavior. For these and other reasons, it is important to know different techniques for de-escalating conflict. Here are some of them.
Approach the Situation Calmly
Never start by being aggressive. Approach those in conflict and, keeping an open posture, breathe deeply. Allow your mind to have positive thoughts such as “This is something I can help resolve” or “I can stay calm throughout this conflict and help diffuse it.” Your calm demeanor will have the other participants quickly following your lead.
Describe the Situation
By pointing out to the other party that you see what is happening and expressing thoughts like “I hear you”, the others involved in the conflict will get the message that you are not there to criticize, but you understand the situation and are fully present and willing to help.
Observe Body Language
Sometimes, by paying attention to the body language of the other party, you can discover whether they are willing to talk. You want to encourage others to talk about what is happening, but you also want to observe their non-verbal cues and signals. When the other party knows you are giving them your full attention, you can start the de-escalation with a simple statement like “Please explain what happened”. Make sure to use a calm voice to show that you are going to give them your full attention and will not be interrupting or judging as they speak.
Sometimes, by giving the other party different options to resolve the conflict, you may rapidly diffuse the tense situation. Keep in mind that it is much more difficult for people to attempt to problem-solve when they are upset and feel that they are not being heard. If the situation merits it, offer them choices. This could be the option to take a break and continue the discussion once everyone has had time to cool off or offer to have someone else mediate, particularly if you know someone they might feel comfortable talking to. By understanding that there are choices available, the episode may more easily be de-escalated.
Sometimes, situations may escalate when feelings are involved. It may be that the main point is left to the side and all parties only concentrate on expressing and validating their feelings. Watch and listen carefully to extract the real message. If you are still unable to understand what brought on the conflict or aggressive behavior, a question like “What is really going on?” may move the conversation back on track. Your facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice as you interact with them will make all the difference.