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.