Whether you work in a school setting or practically any other, conflict is almost certainly inevitable. These are times when there is an opposition of strengths between parties and principles. Unfortunately, many professionals lack some of the tools necessary for de-escalating conflict and working towards the negotiation of more positive outcomes.
Simply stated, conflict occurs when two people disagree, and often this leads to frustration which can lead to anger and if not addressed, aggression, violence and other irrational behaviors can ensue. Conflicts may turn into violence depending upon the role each participant plays. It is important, for that reason alone, to understand the principles of non-violent conflict resolution and the importance of maintaining focus on achieving a desired outcome from the conflict.
First, it must be understood that you are in charge of how you react. Attitudes must remain positive at all times while ensuring that you give the situation your full attention. Every time you communicate, verbally or nonverbally through body language, your attitude is apparent. It is best to present a professional, unbiased and positive attitude. The goal is to redirect the other person’s behavior and generate voluntary compliance using verbal techniques.
Aggression arising from frustration is one of the prime triggers of conflict and usually happens anytime someone wants something they cannot have. Communication breakdowns, lack of adequate skills and even alcohol can be contributing factors. Regardless, the intended goal should be constant, to mitigate risk factors, and de-escalate conflict while always outcome-focused. The tactics one must employ in such situations need to be processed and implemented within a short period of time. Time is critical.
One of the best and simplest overviews of conflict resolution is ‘The OODA Loop’ developed during the Korean War. OODA stands for:
Begin to first observe all aspects of the situation[situation awareness] taking into account the totality of the situation. Then orientate the information gathered about the conflict and compare it to any training, experience and knowledge about conflicts. Next, decide on the best course of action[based on the matching of the first two steps] and lastly put the action into motion. No matter what the action is[disengage, call for more resources, make an initial approach, etc…], there will be a resulting reaction or change in circumstances and the loop begins again.
This loop can occur in a split second, and decisions are made in high stress and volatile environments. This needs to be taken into account. Be patient, tactful, blunt, control your sense of pride and understand that IT IS NOT PERSONAL. De-escalating conflicts using verbal techniques is almost an art form, and one must remain calm, logical and professional. If the conflict is directed at you, know that people are usually venting at the authority you represent and not you personally. By removing the personal element from the scenario, it becomes easier to be mindful that, “you are in charge of how you react”.
Here a few steps that can be followed to work towards more effective conflict de-escalation and resolution:
- Obtain the name of the person with whom you are speaking: People respond favorably to their own name, and it makes the conversation more personal. Ask for the person’s name early and use it throughout the conversation.
- Use Active Listening:Clarifying, paraphrasing, and open-ended questions help to ensure that the person is aware that you understand their frustrations completely. This helps lower frustration levels as it allows the person[s] to ‘get it off their chest’, and vent. Also, repeating someone else’s words back to them clearly shows your comprehension of their points on a very basic level.
- Slow down and suspend judgment: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict situations, even if you don’t agree with the other person. Expressing your understanding of their feelings will help to resolve the conflict. Ensure you give this your full attention and demonstrate respect for the other person’s feelings and opinions.
- Get them to say yes: It is very hard for someone to remain angry towards you if they are agreeing with you. Sounds ridiculous?? Using clarifying statements, questions and using summaries during the conversation all help to confirm your understanding their point. Example,” So you are feeling frustrated because of XYZ, is that right?” You are creating a situation where the other person has to respond with a ‘yes’, and the more often we get them to say yes, the quicker the conflict will de-escalate. Extremely useful technique!
- Don’t use clichés: The worst is saying,”Calm Down”. If you have ever heard these words, you know that the usual response is “I am calm”, and said at the top of their lungs, too. Hand gestures will be animated as well. So, don’t say it!
- Express empathy: Show compassion and give the conflict full attention, without making rash judgments. Work through the process.
- Consistency in Courtesy: The person you are dealing with at midnight is the same person you are dealing with at midday. They deserve the same level of respect, courtesy and patience. The 12th person with whom you have interacted deserves the same respect as the 2nd-be consistent and professionalism. Often, you are making both a first and last impression for someone. A consummate professional!
Verbal de-escalation tools are important skills to possess and as such, need to be honed and practiced regularly if they are to become part of our natural response to conflict situations. Training and ingraining these techniques to the point where they become second nature allows you to focus more on the fluid and dynamic changing aspects of conflict such as the signs and triggers mentioned above. This also enables you to develop a greater awareness of other situational factors. The combination of all these factors will provide the greatest chance of minimizing and resolving conflict in the safest and most positive way possible. Remember “The OODA Loop”!!!