Conflict is increasing at work, at home and in society in general. In Minneapolis last week a woman was cut off by a jeep in traffic so she beeped her horn at the jeep. The jeep pulled up alongside of her and the passenger in the jeep shot her four times. She is expected to recover from her injuries.
In St. Paul last week a client entered the law offices of his attorney and shot and killed who he mistakenly thought was his attorney for what he thought was poor representation on his case.
Did you know that 65% of Americans believe that civility is a major problem and 71% believe that civility has deteriorated significantly in the past few years?[i] This is a major issue on all fronts.
Last week I spoke to business professionals, HR leadership and training leadership from such entities as Target, Buffalo Wild Wings and others on “De-escalation and coaching” in Edina, Minnesota at the Association for Talent Development Twin Cities Chapter coaching special interest group. Later this month I am co-presenting with Michele Wallace to Conflict Resolution Minnesota (CRM) on the same topic and including an update on “Virtual Mediation in the State of Minnesota” on April 29th. You can register or see the topics here.
In my latest book, Peaceful Resolutions, chapter two addresses the Art of De-escalation. When I first drafted this book almost two years ago there was no chapter on de-escalation. However, several reviewers suggested a chapter on de-escalation, so I researched the topic exploring hostage taking training, social work training and neuroscience. We can learn a lot from these fields. I also have learned a lot from my experiences as a manager for 25 years dealing with the public and as a mediator for 16 years both in practice and as a volunteer in various tense situations.
One clear point that needs to be made is that you need to center yourself first. Our natural tendency when confronted in a conflict type situation is to fight, flee or freeze. From the field of neuroscience we know this is natural. Our amygdala kicks in and produces chemicals and hormones in 6 to 8 seconds that stay with us typically for 6 to 8 hours and may not fully disperse for up 22 hours and until we have had a full sleep cycle. So how can we stop this from happening?
From the field of neuroscience we know that we can make use of our prefrontal cortex and consciously take steps to not let ourselves become angry. This take practice, but in reality we have the choice to let ourselves become angry or not. Knowing this it is important to center yourself. Know your own triggers. Know how to counter them.
We do not learn from our experiences, but we do learn by reflecting on our experiences. I would like to ask you to reflect on one of your own personal intense situations. Realize like a coin that in reality not only has two sides, but in reality has three sides (consider the side of the coin besides heads and tails), there are three sides to an issue. The three sides are my side, your side and the truth. Sometimes it is hard to see the truth. How can you calm yourself and work with the other party to both work towards the truth?
You must control yourself;
Your physical stance matters – give additional space between you and the other person.
There is a process for a de-escalation discussion;
Role play yourself remaining calm;
Relax your facial muscles;
Face the other party;
Be at the same eye level;
Don’t maintain eye contact;
Do not smile;
Do not touch;
Encourage taking a seat;
Use a low monotonous tone of voice;
Do not be defensive even if insults are directed at you;
You have the choice to leave if the situation is to intense or dangerous;
Be respectful when setting firm limits;
Give choices and attempt to empower;
Emphasize “you have the right to feel angry”;
Bring down the level of arousal to a baseline;
Explain limits and rules where possible;
Empathize with feelings, but not with behavior;
Do not solicit how the other person is feeling;
Do not argue or try to convince;
Tap the cognitive mode of “Help me to Understand”;
Suggest alternative behaviors “Would you like to take a break?”;
Give consequences without threats or anger; and
Trust your instincts.
These are elements I touch on in the chapter on de-escalation related to yourself and another party in Peaceful Resolutions. I also offer additional commentary on when there is a conflict with two or more people. In our society today there are many that need help in this area. I have learned that whether I am in a negotiation or a mediation the first thing you need to do is remain calm. Explore the steps presented above. Keep in mind to address feelings and once a base level has been reached it is important to focus on the problem. All too often we focus on blame. Our politicians are notorious for doing this for political gain. This does not solve the problem. In our work environment, at home and with others, we need to stay focused and help others stay focused on the problem at hand. We need to remain calm and be part of a calming force in a storm. I hope these tips can help you when confronted with conflict. If you found this useful please share this with others.
Michael Gregory is the founder of Michael Gregory Consulting, LLC focusing on conflict resolution, value added services and being a solution provider. Mike is also an international speaker and author helping clients resolve issues business to business, business to government (IRS) and within businesses. He can be reached at email@example.com and 651-633-5311