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.