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Mastering De-escalation Training Techniques: A Guide for Managers

Fostering Connections for Success


KEY POINTS

Importance of de-escalation: Unresolved conflict harms employee morale, decreases productivity and can even lead to legal issues. Managers need strong de-escalation skills to address conflict effectively and create a safe and positive work environment.
De-escalation techniques: The guide outlines key de-escalation techniques managers can use, including maintaining composure, active listening, setting boundaries and focusing on solutions.
Prevention is key: While de-escalation skills are valuable, efforts should also be focused on preventing conflict from arising in the first place. Fostering a culture of respect, open communication and team building can significantly reduce conflict and create a more harmonious workplace
De-Escalation Training
author
JAMS Pathways Editors

 As a manager, you've likely encountered conflict, either between colleagues, among frustrated customers or even within your team. With diverse personalities working under pressure, disagreements are sometimes unavoidable. This is why understanding how to de-escalate a situation at work is a crucial skill for any leader. This article delves into de-escalation strategies you can implement in these situations, regardless of whether you're acting as a mediator or directly intervening in the conflict.

Why is de-escalation important?

While it may seem self-evident that no conflict should be allowed to escalate, this principle bears remembering in real life. When faced with conflict, there might be a temptation to downplay the issue or leave it for the interested parties to sort it out among themselves. This easier route ultimately does not pay off, as the quality of companies’ work environments stems from leadership's ability to prevent and address conflict. Left unchecked, conflicts can escalate into physical and/or verbal abuse, creating a hostile work environment not just for the parties involved, but potentially for the entire company. This negatively impacts employee retention, morale and productivity, with additional costs potentially arising from legal disputes. De-escalating conflict means being able to not only recognize the early signs of a disagreement, but also proactively apply conflict resolution skills to reach a resolution that, even if it involves compromise, is agreeable to both parties. As this resolution might be easier to achieve in earlier stages of the dispute, creating a harmonious workplace might hinge upon a proactive, vigilant approach to employee concerns.

How to Strengthen Your De-escalation Toolbox

So, what can you do as a manager when faced with conflict? Let’s break down the processes and tools available.

Remember the 4 Core Principles

When first becoming aware of a disagreement, managers should be on the lookout for signs of rising tension, such as raised voices, stiff body language and tense facial expressions. These are cues to initiate a four-step process for de-escalating tensions. This process relies on four core principles that can be used in sequence, as well as reinforced throughout the conversation. Think of them as anchoring points or guiding lines for the interaction: Your approach should embody these four principles, but as the conversation evolves, it’s also useful to ground and steer the conversation back to them.

  1. Stay calm: As a manager, it is important to remain calm and composed during tense situations. Your demeanor can have a significant impact on how others respond to you. Take deep breaths, speak slowly and clearly, and maintain a neutral tone of voice.
  2. Empathize: Show empathy toward those involved in the conflict by acknowledging their feelings and perspectives. Actively listen, letting them know that you understand where they are coming from and that you are there to help find a resolution. 
  3. Set boundaries: When emotions are heated, it's particularly useful to pair empathy with setting limits. Clearly communicate expectations for behavior during conflicts, and enforce boundaries if necessary. Let all parties know what acceptable conduct is and what will not be tolerated.
  4. Offer solutions: Work collaboratively with those involved in the conflict to find solutions that are acceptable to all parties. Brainstorm ideas together and come up with a plan for moving forward. It's important to present the situation as a collaborative effort, seeking to find a solution that works for everyone involved.

 

Build Your De-escalation Skills

While the points above should serve as guiding lines for the conversation, there are several approaches we can apply to fulfill them. Below are skills that can be applied throughout the interaction, which, like any other skill, can be strengthened through practice. Experiment with embodying these in your day-to-day interactions or applying them during a role-playing exercise with someone you trust:

  • Nonverbal communication: Maintain eye contact, use open body language (uncrossed arms, open palms) and project a calm demeanor. Avoid aggressive gestures or interrupting.
  • Focus on de-personalization: Separate the person from the problem. Focus on addressing the issue at hand, not making personal attacks.
  • Verbal de-escalation: Use a calm and respectful tone of voice, and avoid accusatory language. One very useful tip is focusing on "I" statements to express your concerns, as opposed to “you” statements. This prevents the other person from feeling attacked by remarking how the situation affects you directly. Example: "You never deliver things on time!" vs. "I feel frustrated because I’m not sure I will be able to meet my deadlines.”
  • Open-ended questions: Ask open-ended questions to encourage the other person to explain their perspective and identify potential solutions.
  • Listen: The importance of active listening cannot be stressed enough in a conflict, as it’s the single most decisive factor for the success of its de-escalation. Listen attentively to all parties involved in the conflict without interrupting or passing judgment. One useful approach is to repeat key points of the other person’s perspective to ensure the other person that you understand their perspective accurately (commonly addressed as mirroring).
  • Identify common ground: Look for areas of agreement, no matter how small, to build rapport and find a path forward.

 

Ask for Support

While you can start applying all of the above in your professional life, seeking support is always the best route to go one step further. Do not shy away from seeking other resources for your professional growth —  whether they’re from your organization, external entities or trusted colleagues. Below are some proven ways to develop your managerial skills for conflict resolution:

  • Mentorship: Ask someone who is more experienced in managing conflict to be your mentor. Ask this person to recount how they dealt with conflict in the past, and go through your own cases to reflect on what you could improve.  
  • Role-playing exercises: Ask someone you trust to simulate a real-life scenario where they play the role of the other person in the conflict, allowing you to practice de-escalation techniques in a safe environment.
  • Formal de-escalation training programs: Many organizations offer de-escalation training for employees dealing with conflict, providing in-depth instruction on conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. If you’re not alone in your organization dealing with escalating conflict, you can suggest that your employer host a training session. JAMS offers programs geared toward managers to help develop de-escalation skills. You can view these options here.

The importance of active listening cannot be stressed enough in a conflict setting, as it’s the single most decisive factor for the success of its de-escalation.

 

Conclusion

Becoming a better manager involves continuously improving your conflict resolution skills, as conflicts are inevitable in any workplace. The tools discussed above provide a framework for practice, but personal growth should not stop there. Actively seeking additional resources, support and alternative approaches is crucial for ongoing self-development.

A well-rounded strategy to address conflict starts with cultivating an environment where it struggles to take root. By fostering a culture of respect, encouraging open communication and facilitating team bonding, you can prevent many conflicts from escalating. This proactive approach not only makes conflicts easier to resolve when they do occur, but it also contributes to a healthier work environment overall. 

For further insights on how to develop a holistic approach to improving employee interactions, start working on your workplace well-being. While conflict is an inevitable part of navigating a diverse workforce, with the right set of policies and leadership skills, there is no reason why it can’t be managed or even harnessed to spur innovation. 

Disclaimer:
This page is for general information purposes. JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness. Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals.
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