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De-escalation Techniques

As social creators we cannot avoid by engaging with other and face conflicting situations. Conflict is natural relationship dynamics and can serve as an opportunity to collaborate and improve life. Carl Whitaker, a well know family therapist said, “Conflict is the pathway to intimacy.” Yes, conflict in relationship is unavoidable and rather than fight it, you should embrace it.

As we all experience, conflicting situations are difficult to handle, especially when emotionality amplify and distort our thoughts and behaviors. At one point, when conflicts deteriorate into angry response, they are no longer effective. To get to a level of cooperation, individuals in relationship must adopt conflict resolution skills.

As conflict escalates, parties involved begin to lose their reason. In some cases, these conflicts spiral completely out of control and can end up of both sides suffer “heavy losses.” Given the destructive nature that escalation plays, it is important to develop tools and strategies to limit and reverse this process.

De-escalation involves changes within each party involved in the conflict. It is important to understand that if one person change, it change the whole interaction dynamics between the parties. Based on Louis Kriesberg, in his book Constructive Conflicts, conflict de-escalation refers to a decrease in the severity of the coercive means used and in the number of parties engaged in the struggle. He added that “a basic finding of this analysis is that transforming transitions come about when a new way of thinking about their conflict becomes dominant in each of the primary adversaries.” In other words, conflict deescalation can take place when one or both parties involved desired new relationship with the other side and there is a serious attempt to do things differently to break the negative escalation.

The shift from escalation to de-escalation is a process that reduces the tension and negative energy between the parties involved. That also means that at any given moment the parties involved can take steps to de-escalate the situation. Yet, it requires much awareness, skill and effort. If you have acquired the ability to approach the conflict differently, it can be invaluable to handle challenging situation and to maximize the chances of a positive outcome.

spiral2grow counseling practice in New York City, provides training in conflict resolution skills and de-escalation techniques for individuals, couples, families, and business organizations. Our trainers help building successful relationships and dynamics by providing the necessary conflict resolutions and de-escalation tools..

  • Key Concepts to Keep in Mind to Avoid Escalation Techniques:
    • When a person is very angry, it is almost impossible to reason and logically communicate with that person.
    • Anger is contagious and the same applies to calmness or any other feelings that we are exposed to.
    • The main objective of conflict de-escalation is to avoid amplifying the negative energy and to reduce the level of anger so a discussion becomes possible or the parties involved agree to discuss the issue in the future when parties are in better emotional state.
    • De-escalation techniques must be practiced so that they can become “second nature.”
    • When exercising de-escalation, we must be assertive and appear centered and calm.
  • De-escalation Techniques:
    • Be Non-Judgmental and Emphatic – Don’t be judgmental and have an open mind. Empathy is the heart of relationship, since empathy requires compassion. And, without compassion, relationship dies.
    • Be Assertive – Act assertively and explain limits and rules in an authoritative, firm, but always respectful tone. Give choices where possible in which both alternatives are safe ones (e.g. Would you like to continue our discussion calmly or would you prefer to stop now and talk tomorrow when things can be more relaxed?)
    • Set Boundaries and Limits – Be respectful and clearly set boundaries and limits. If a person’s behavior is belligerent, defensive, or disruptive, give them clear, simple, and enforceable limits. Offer concise and respectful choices and consequences.
    • Be Calm with Positive Energy – The goal of de-escalation is to reduce level of negative energy, so try calmly bring the level of emotions anger down to a reasonable space.
    • Don’t Assume – Do not interpret feelings or thought – mindreading – simply ask. Ask question and suggest alternative behaviors where appropriate e.g. “Would you like to take a break and have a cold cup of water?
    • Communicate Constructively – When people are paid attention, they feel validated; they feel important. So, listen with empathy, try to understand where the person is coming from.
    • Focus on Feelings – Empathize with feelings but not with the behavior (e.g. “I understand that you have every right to feel angry, but it is not okay for you to treat myself/me or others this way.)
    • Avoid Defensiveness – Do not be defensive-even if the comments or insults are directed at you. Don’t take it personally, they are not about you. They are about the other person.
    • Find Truth – No one is wrong 100% and no one is right 100%. So, find truth some truth in what they are saying and communicate it back. Agreeing is a powerful tool in validating and reducing negative energy.
    • Respect Personal Space – Allow for a more physical space between you as compare to your normal distance. The space can serve as to contain the negative energy that is produced by the Anger and agitation.
    • Body Language – Pay attention to your body language. Appear calm, centered and self-assured even though you don’t feel it.
    • Facial Expression – Pay attention to your facial expression. Try to relax facial muscles and look confident. Do not smile as it might seen as mockery or anxiety.
    • Tone of Voice – Use a modulated, low monotonous tone of voice (our normal tendency is to have a high pitched, tight voice when scared). Do not get loud or try to yell over a screaming person. Speak calmly at an average volume.
    • Do not Touch – Even if some touching is generally culturally appropriate and usual in your setting. Very angry people may misinterpret physical contact as hostile or threatening.
    • Allow Silence and Time for Decisions – Even though most people do not feel comfortable during silence, sometimes allowing that moment of silence can be the best choice. When a person is upset, they may be confused or not be able to think clearly. Give them a few moments to think through what you’ve said.
    • Apologize and Do Better – When you are wrong, simply apologize. Apologizing is a good de-escalation skill. Also, we can also do better, you can always aspire to be more responsible, more respectful, more tolerant etc.
    • Avoid Overreacting – Remain calm and rational. While you can’t control the person’s behavior, how you respond to their behavior will have a direct effect on whether the situation escalates or defuses.
More about Communications , Conflict and Anger
  • The Power of Two - by Susan Hitler
  • The Anger Habit – by Semmelroth, Carl & Smith, Donald
  • The High-Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy, and Validation by Alan Fruzzertti


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Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in New York City
License # : 000697