Study Shows the Importance of Workplace De-Escalation Training - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

Summary of:

Skiba, R., “Conflict De-Escalation: Workplace Training” (2020). Scientific Research, 8(7), 153-162.

Background & Theory:

Although workplace conflict is sometimes inevitable, some occupations have to deal with aggressive behavior and violence. Especially in these occupations, it is important that employees receive de-escalation training as a means of de-escalating the emotion and conflict of aggressive individuals. This study dives deeper into how aggressive behavior can be triggered and the value of workplace de-escalation training.

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Research was consolidated by Richard Skiba to answer the following question:

    1. What are the causes of conflict escalation and how can individuals use de-escalation practices to resolve conflict situations?


Over 20 past research studies, books and other resources were utilized to create this literature review, published in Scientific Research in 2020.


The results of this literature review find that often, the source of an individual’s conflict escalation is a feeling of anger, which can arise due to unmet needs. Whether it is a need to control, for information, to feel safe, or others, the lack of attention to these needs often leads to a physiologically angry response, with surges of chemicals in the brain, increased heart rate, and blood concentration in the hands and muscles. From a sociological perspective, anger can arise from feelings of marginalization, exclusion, and suppression of identity. In a workplace context, anger frequently arises in part due to asymmetric power imbalance. When anger occurs, people can choose to move into conflict, believing that they can change others’ thoughts and behaviors.

When anger occurs, it is important for people to be able to recognize the signs of anger moving into conflict through verbal and non-verbal cues. Verbal cues can show up in the form of yelling, screaming, an increase in voice pitch, the use of offensive language, and parroting. Non-verbal cues include balling up of fists, pacing, clenching of the jaw, violating personal space, face flushing, refusing to make eye contact, and heavy breathing.

After recognizing the presence of conflict escalation, de-escalation should then occur. De-escalation is the utilization of verbal and non-verbal techniques to reduce the immediacy of a threat, giving more time for the angered individual to gain composure and come to effective resolution. De-escalation begins with an individual remaining internally calm, actively listening to the person in conflict, making the person feel heard, and allowing the person to let out their frustration by explaining their feelings. Some situations require the de-escalator to put their safety above the de-escalation process, so it is important to be aware of risk-factors and have safety measures in place.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insight:

  • Workplace de-escalation training can help employees (especially in violence/crisis related occupations) to understand causes and manifestations of anger, prioritize their own safety, dynamically assess risks, remain calm, communicate effectively with care, and make informed decisions on how to deal with aggressive and challenging behavior.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: De-escalation strategies can be very helpful for consultants engaging in conflict resolution, as the strategies include internal composure, active listening, and engaging in effective communication.

For Everyone: When dealing with an aggressive person, if you feel your safety is not at risk, remain calm and speak to the person in a non-threatening way, using active listening as a way of allowing the person to vent their feelings.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and holds a Master's in Dispute Resolution from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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