De-Escalating a Conflict: Why De-Escalation is a Critical Leadership Skill

While conflict resolution is undoubtedly a critical leadership skill, there's more to this than you may realize. While the concept of "conflict resolution" occurs once things have settled down, and your managers and supervisors are tasked with making sure any grievances have been aired, and there is a solution to what caused the conflict in the first place. However, in the workplace, it's essential to know how to de-escalate conflict to maintain a calm and productive environment. Plenty of things lead to a workplace conflict, but de-escalating conflict is a necessary leadership skill to learn. This is a method of preventing a conflict in the first place by embodying the proper body language and remaining calm.

We'll cover some proven techniques for de-escalating conflict at work so that your leaders can learn the proper ways to circumvent a conflict and avoid tensions rising, whether it be amongst managers or employees.

What Do I Need to Know to De-Escalate a Conflict?

We've shared how important it is for your leaders in the workplace to have good conflict resolution skills and even covered some of the different types of conflict you may see within your organization. Think of conflict de-escalation as preventing the need for resolution. This can work to prevent your managers and supervisors from feeling the need to act as a referee amongst angry or disgruntled team members and can provide them with tangible advice for themselves. It's still essential to implement a training program to help your leaders who may have trouble identifying the signs a conflict is going to arise.

You can pick up on many non-verbal cues from fellow employees and team members, like recognizing a person's anxiety or impatience with a situation or conversation, often exemplified by a tapping foot, crossed arms, a clenched jaw, and facial expressions. When they speak, the tone of their voice will also express how that person feels, even if they aren't necessarily saying anything combatively. This nonverbal communication may be what leads to escalation to begin with.

de-escalating conflict

If one or more parties are involved in a conflict or an argument, there is likely a level of anger and animosity as the situation escalates. The most important thing to consider when de-escalating a conflict is having a calm demeanor. You can help your employees to acknowledge each person's feelings, respect personal space, and remain calm and in control of their own emotions. Simply being aware of the other person's feelings when there is a disagreement, taking a deep breath, and keeping your body language neutral can all be ways to avoid conflict escalation and a potentially violent situation.

How to De-escalate a Conflict 

Managers and supervisors should teach employees ways they can manage emotions, along with some de-escalation techniques for when tensions run high, to avoid unnecessary altercations and the need for any sort of conflict, to begin with.

One of the most important things to remember when de-escalating conflict is to remain calm. This can be difficult, but it's crucial in order to avoid further escalation. If you find yourself getting angry or upset, take a step back and take some deep breaths. It's also important to avoid using any sort of inflammatory language. Instead, try to use neutral or positive language to diffuse the situation. Ask the other person open-ended questions and reflect before you respond. If you're confused, or there may be miscommunication, ask the other person to explain further.

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It's also important to see things from the other person's perspective. This doesn't mean that you have to agree with them, but it does mean that you should try to understand where they're coming from. Empathy can go a long way in de-escalating conflict, and it is another valuable leadership skill that can be learned with the right training.

Finally, it's important to offer solutions. This shows that you're willing to work towards a resolution and not just looking to start an argument. Maintain eye contact, and provide strategies to move forward. If you can find a way to compromise, that's even better! Conflict doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, positive conflict can actually be an opportunity to grow and learn about each other. It can provide you with tips on how to understand what a person is feeling or thinking and an opportunity to talk about your own concerns and notice what tone you have with others during a disagreement or altercation.

Why is De-Escalating an Essential Leadership Skill?

De-escalating conflict allows leaders to maintain a calm and constructive work environment. It helps organizations build a positive workplace culture where people know their voices are heard, and they can feel safe and respected amongst their peers. Furthermore, knowing how to de-escalate a conflict can help prevent something small from transforming into a larger and more damaging dispute. While a certain amount of conflict can have a positive outcome, it can't remain that way if it escalates into a dangerous situation for anyone involved. It doesn't even have to become violent for a workplace conflict to have damaging consequences and lasting repercussions.

De-escalating conflict demonstrates to employees that their leader can handle difficult situations calmly and effectively. It instills a higher sense of trust. This leadership skill also shows a sense of responsibility because leaders are dealing with conflicts before they are happening and can offer concise, clear feedback in the moment.

A skilled leader can remain in control and set an example for others. The proper training can help your leaders navigate not only their own feelings and be aware of them when tensions run high but can offer tips for other employees that have concerns. They can hear from both people and suggest ways for everyone to remain calm while getting their point across. This way, each person's concerns are heard, a resolution is formed, and your organization can create a positive culture that's productive and motivated. Most importantly, understanding the proper de-escalation techniques means each person feels comfortable knowing they're not coming to a hostile or toxic working environment.

how to de-escalate a conflict

De-Escalation Techniques

The Business Journals shared the following basic tips for anyone wondering how to de-escalate a conflict with proper communication that includes the following: 

  1. Cultivate genuine compassion
  2. Be inquisitive
  3. Listen carefully to understand (not to respond)
  4. Speak respectfully

As long as your leaders understand the importance of proper communication and have empathy for others, whether they be fellow managers or employees at all levels, they can learn how to de-escalate a conflict. With the right training and some introspection, your managers and supervisors will be able to recognize when a person's behavior may lead to rising tensions and potential conflicts. It's never too late to focus on building a positive workplace culture with a positive employee relations strategy focusing on conflict de-escalation.

 If you're unsure where to begin, we're here to help! You can chat with our team of experts and find the right solution for your organization. Don't let conflicts become a problem in your workplace. You can proactively create authentic employee connections and develop leaders your teams love.

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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