We know conflict is inevitable in stressful situations where a myriad of personalities rely on each other to get things done. Avoiding conflict entirely is not only typically impossible, but it can be an ineffective way of handling tension that’s on the verge of erupting into something more. While avoiding conflict may feel like the best way to keep things civil, a better approach would be to focus on de-escalating conflict in the workplace instead.
De-Escalating Conflict in the Workplace
While conflict in the workplace is inevitable, knowing how to de-escalate it when it arises is not. Most people don’t enter leadership roles with the right training for de-escalating conflict in the workplace. While de-escalation can be quite simple in certain circumstances, it takes a certain finesse and mindfulness to effectively pull it off. Here are a list of strategies to consider when de-escalating conflict in the workplace:
Identify Early Warning Signs
Early warning signs are important to act on. It may feel too early in some instances, but at least addressing the warning sign can help diffuse some tension before things become problematic. Solving workplace conflict requires some degree of engagement, even if it’s low-intensity. So if you spot issues that could erupt into something bigger, address them head-on and early.
Escalation can be frightening, even if the conflict does not take a physical turn. This is why people tend to avoid conflict because they may worry that de-escalating conflict in the workplace may have the opposite effect. By nature of the need to de-escalate, you’re walking into something escalated. In these cases, it’s always important to ensure you and others feel safe. Perhaps bring a neutral party with you to increase safety measures or reach out to HR and higher levels of management if that still feels too risky.
Slow Down Reactivity
Many people have stronger instincts to avoid conflict rather than engage and de-escalate it. However, this can have the opposite effect on a conflict that may otherwise have been solved by slowing down emotional reactivity, allowing both parties to reconnect to their rational mind and make better choices about how to engage. Slowing down reactivity requires active listening, validating the experiences expressed, and recommending some kind of break from the conflict stimuli. Perhaps your teammate needs to go take a walk around the block or at least leave the direct vicinity of the conflict. Taking deep breaths, splashing some cold water on your face, or talking to someone who’s willing to listen can help put a little space between the trigger and someone’s reaction to it. In that space it can also be helpful to check the facts that caused the emotional responses. Did the opposing party really mean harm by their actions or did it just feel that way given the context and vulnerabilities at play?
Maintain Your Own Calmness
Dealing with staff conflict requires that you manage your own emotional reactivity as well. While you may be nervous or upset, or may even have a vested interest in the outcome of the conflict, it’s important that you separate your emotions from the task of de-escalation. There are skills that you can learn through de-escalation training, but ultimately if you’re unable to stay balanced, it may be best to send someone else in to resolve conflict.
Communication is critical to de-escalation but it doesn’t just include what you’re verbally saying. It also includes how you’re saying it, what you’re not saying, how you’re listening, and what you’re communicating non-verbally through body language. Be mindful of the effect your communication may have on the escalation of a conflict and get support with learning how to use these skills to soften tension, create containment, and offer safety to those who are experiencing heightened emotions.
De-escalating conflict in the workplace is a crucial step in conflict resolution as a whole. Learn the skills you need to manage tensions before they rise. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today to get the right solutions for your team.