High-stress situations and interactions where tensions are mounting can result in a spillover of emotion, such as anger or frustration. De-escalating a situation requires the participation and consent of all involved. There are several actions individuals can take to enhance the likelihood of achieving de-escalation.  These actions fall into 3 main categories, the second of which is empathize.

Empathizing is important because, whether you feel the source of anger or frustration is valid or justified, you need to recognize those feelings are real. Respecting those feelings as well as demonstrating a sincere desire to understand more about the root cause of those feelings are key steps towards working towards a resolution.

The first and most important step in demonstrating empathy is to listen.  It is difficult to solve a problem or fix an issue if you do not know what the problem or issue is. Taking the time to listen allows you the opportunity to obtain a greater understanding. In many instances it can serve as an emotional release valve for the person with whom you are engaging. Sometimes people just want to be heard.  

When it is appropriate to respond, summarize what they said using your own words or injecting keywords or phrases that they just used. This not only helps to bring more clarity to the subject but is also an effective way to demonstrate you really heard and understood what has been said.  

If the opportunity presents itself and it is appropriate, which it will not always be, utilize bridge-building phrases such as “I understand your frustration” or “I am sympathetic to your problem.” Phrases like these can help to start shifting the dynamic of the interaction from two opposing sides to one unit working together.

Explaining can also play an important role in empathizing. Providing an explanation as to why an action was taken or a decision was made allows for additional clarity and demonstrates respect for the individuals with whom you are interacting. Reactions to these explanations may often not be received positively. 

It is important to remember empathizing and agreeing do not necessarily go hand in hand.  Effectively demonstrating empathy does, however, help lay the foundation for you to have the ability to close out the interaction by providing options for resolution while setting expectations for future interactions. 

Conflict is inevitable, and there will be times when you have to deal with it, whether it’s an upset family member after an incident at school or a  distraught employee after a long day at the office. In many situations, it is critical to become less emotional and more logical. Many people find it easier to contain their emotions when others speak in a rational way, rather than with threats and anger. And that’s where de-escalation comes in.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. The actions that individuals take while in a tense situation play a vital role in success. These actions fall into three main categories, the first of which is setting the tone.

Setting the tone is important because the choices made during the initial stages of a tense or potentially confrontational interaction significantly impacts how that interaction evolves. This can include the words that are used as well as the gestures that are made. Those can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

At the beginning of an interaction, the words you use can dramatically influence the situation’s outcome, whether it’s the words themselves or how the words are being said.  If the situation allows for it, begin with a welcoming greeting. Polite gestures like offering a seat or something to drink can help lower the temperature.   If possible, inject an open-ended question about a topic that is not centered around the issue at hand.  Simple questions relating to things like the wellbeing of a family member, weekend or holiday plans, opinions on recent or upcoming sporting events, or even more mundane topics like the weather can also contribute to creating a welcoming environment.

Although it may be challenging at times, it is also essential to keep your voice’s tone appropriately modulated, even if those you’re interacting with do not.  Effective resolutions rarely are the result of screaming matches.

What is more important than the words you use and how you use them is demonstrating your willingness to listen.  Angry and frustrated individuals often want to be heard.  Start by eliminating distractions such as checking a text or email message, working on your computer, or allowing other staff members to interrupt the interaction.  Talking over people or interrupting them does not contribute to your efforts to demonstrate your willingness to listen.

It is also essential to maintain an awareness of your non-verbal gestures.   Striking a balance between being close to individuals while maintaining personal spaces contributes to your safety but still allows for the interaction to be conversational. Also, be mindful of things like facial and hand gestures, posture, or intense eye contact that can be perceived as angry or threatening.

All these actions can significantly contribute to maintaining a safe, calm, and constructive environment that will allow you to better demonstrate empathy to the individuals you interact with.

Tensions are high, people are stressed, and you aren’t quite sure how to respond to diffuse a tense situation at your organization. At SEC, we are hearing from a number of clients seeking guidance on how to de-escalate emotionally heated interactions. Many of these have arisen as a result of fatigue and frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask compliance, quarantines, access issues, and challenges with virtual learning are just some of the sources that have led to these negative and potentially dangerous exchanges. 

There’s no single response or technique that will work in every situation, but de-escalation is a skill that needs to be trained and understood to be effective when confronted with a high-stress interaction.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. There are several actions individuals can take to enhance the likelihood of achieving the goal of de-escalation. These actions fall into three main categories:

Setting the tone refers to the choices individuals make during the initial stages of any interaction. The words used, the gestures made, and the actions taken from the very beginning can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

Empathizing is important because, whether you feel the source of anger or frustration is valid or justified, you need to recognize those feelings are real. Demonstrating a sincere desire to understand more about those feelings’ root cause is key to resolving resolution.

Closing with options when attempting to resolve an interaction is always helpful; lead with solutions, positive alternatives, reasonable compromises, or access to individuals who may have a greater authority to resolve the issue. Regardless of whether the resolution attempts are received positively or negatively, closing also involves setting clear expectations about the next steps. If they are positively received, explain what and when actions will occur to solve or mitigate the issue. If negatively received, be clear and calmly explain the consequences of non-compliance or continued aggressive behavior.

It is essential to remember during high-stress interactions that safety is the top priority. 

Join us this month as we discuss the importance of de-escalation guidance and how your organization can use it.