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6 De-Escalation Techniques to Diffuse Conflict

Conflict and disagreement are a part of life, albeit often an unpleasant one. Whether caused by a disagreement in values or simple miscommunication, we all encounter conflict at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, when conflict is not addressed productively, it can escalate, sometimes to the point of violence.

Emotions are contagious. When we encounter someone who is experiencing stress, we pick up on their stress. The same is true for other emotions, including anger, which is why we might feed off of someone else’s anger, causing a conflict to escalate further.

In the workplace, unresolved conflict leads to less creativity and productivity, and interpersonal relationship conflict can destroy relationships, including friendships and marriages. It is essential to build and use healthy, appropriate skills to de-escalate conflicts in a healthy way.

Address Conflict As Soon As Possible

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Conflict can grow over time, and you can become resentful of an ongoing issue.

If you have a problem with another person, addressing it as soon as possible can prevent escalation. It can be tempting to ignore a conflict that seems small, but then the issue grows until we can no longer ignore it, which sometimes leads to an explosive confrontation.

Long-term conflicts are more difficult to resolve because of the history and more intense feelings attached. Bring the conflict to the other person’s attention and find a resolution early on to prevent escalation before it begins.

Identify the Goal of De-Escalation

Sometimes we know something is wrong but struggle to articulate exactly what the issue is or our desired outcome. How can you resolve something if you do not know what that looks like?

It can be helpful to ask yourself, “How will I know that this is resolved?” What change would make things right for you? Before working towards a resolution, each party in the conflict can think about the kind of resolution they need or want and what that would look like.

Do you need to see a specific behavior change? Do you feel wronged and need an apology? Do the parties have different communication styles and need to get on the same page?

Understand each person’s perception of the problem and desired resolution beforehand.

Resources That Can Help You Deal With Conflict

Sometimes, you might need outside help to manage or de-escalate a conflict. Even if you take steps to diffuse the situation, the other party might not be receptive or may choose to continue to escalate regardless of your efforts.

Depending on the nature of the conflict, you might benefit from additional support:

  • Workplace conflict: Consult your job’s human resources department. They can intervene and help you and the other party work through the conflict in a healthy environment.

  • Conflict with your partner: If you and your partner are struggling with conflict, a couples therapist can help you work through it.

  • Divorce: Sometimes, the safest or healthiest option in a marriage is to end the relationship. Professional mediators can help work through conflicts impeding a divorce proceeding.

  • Family conflict: If members of your family are struggling with conflict, a marriage and family therapist or another qualified mental health professional can help you work through and build appropriate communication skills.

  • Conflict among friends: Even the best of friends disagree sometimes. Involving a neutral third party can help you work through the disagreement and communicate effectively.

Remember that you can only control your response to the conflict and not the other person’s, but you can use these tips to make de-escalation as painless as possible.


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