Why De-Escalation Skills Are Important
The best way to prevent a tense situation from boiling over into a confrontation is to de-escalate early and often through body language, nonverbal communication, and respecting personal space.
For example, police departments that provide their officers with resources for de-escalating conflicts can improve the safety of officers and community members alike. One study found that de-escalation training for law enforcement officers reduced complaints, officer injuries, and use of force incidents.
In the context of office-based jobs, these are some ways that de-escalation training can help your organization and its employees succeed:
- Fewer formal complaints from customers about employees’ actions
- Fewer complaints to human resources about interpersonal conflict, harassment, and discrimination among coworkers
- Less stress for employees and better worker morale
- Better workplace communication and more efficient and responsive management
- Improved employee retention
- Higher productivity
- Improved customer retention
How De-Escalation Works
Whether you are a police officer trying to break up a violent confrontation, a mental health counselor trying to help someone through a personal crisis, or a customer service representative dealing with a complaint from a customer, the goal of de-escalation is the same. Your goal is to use strategies that will stop people from acting on their frustration and anger in ways that cause physical harm or, in the context of business relationship building, in ways that cause financial harm.
A common aspect of de-escalation is integrating communications to avoid making things worse. Listen more than you speak and use non-threatening body language. Depending on the environment or the context, it may be appropriate to stay positive or to maintain a neutral effect.
When you are in a customer support role or a similar situation where one aggrieved person is coming to you about solving a crisis, you should use the HEARD method (hear, empathize, acknowledge, resolve, and diagnose). If your role is to mediate a conflict between two or more parties, though, you must develop an even broader range of strategies and tactics for helping the parties to the conflict find common ground. You may need to go through some preliminary steps before the parties are even willing to talk to each other.
De-escalation begins with your response to aggrieved people and their grievances. Even if you use the most effective practices, you may need to repeat your techniques more than once before the parties involved seem willing to walk away from the conflict or discuss solutions to it.
Key Elements of Successful De-Escalation
A good starting point when you are trying to de-escalate a crisis is an accurate assessment of the situation. Once you engage with other people whose conflict you are trying to defuse, it is important to be transparent about your intentions.
For example, if you are trying to break up a fight, you should clearly acknowledge that, when you leave, the people who were about to come to blows will still be angry. Be clear that your goal is to prevent physical violence and bodily injuries, not to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
Empathy is a key element of the de-escalation process. Neutrality is also important if you want to gain the trust of the conflicting parties. There are as many de-escalation techniques as there are conflicts, so choosing the right strategy for the situation at hand is another key to success.