Keep Calm: How Managers Can De-Escalate High-Stress Events

Manager talking to an employee

Conflict is a part of life as breathing air and consuming food. It’s unavoidable as long as different people walk the earth, bringing with them their beliefs, opinions, and personal experiences. This difference in approaches is even more prevalent in the office, where a lot of unique personalities need to share the same space and work together. Chaos can happen in a snap of a finger when managers don’t know how to form a cohesive team and navigate through conflict effectively. Law and order can only occur when they arm themselves with the knowledge and skills to de-escalate tense situations.

There is a myriad of reasons why conflict and fights break out in the workplace. Psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart have outlined it into eight potential reasons. One of these is when colleagues need to compete for limited resources and recognition. They will do whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it means stepping on a few toes. Another cause is when there are conflicting perceptions. One person can think the straightforward manner of one employee is rude and problematic. Meanwhile, that frank person might be that way because he believes going straight to the point is more respectful than going around in circles with flowery words.

Managers, no matter how the disagreement happened, need to learn how to deal with high-stress situations and calm down irate teammates. Here are a few techniques they can use:

Assess your surroundings

One of the necessary steps in de-escalation is being aware of the lay of the land. That includes one’s current disposition, the states of the aggrieved parties, and the potential threats that may happen when things don’t go according to plan. Being blind about the situation and falling to assumptions will wreak havoc and cause tension to rise. You might even be brought into the fight and forced to choose sides, instead of being the objective arbiter of the team.

Knowing your current mood and level of patience are also vital when dealing with conflict. Feeling strong emotions even before jumping into the fray might make the situation worse. It’s better to avoid it or ask for another person that can put a pause to the disagreements.

Listen attentively and acknowledge feelings

Sometimes all people want is for someone to listen to them and acknowledge what they’re feeling. They need managers who can reassure that their concern is valid while maintaining objectivity. But this doesn’t mean being on their side and treating the opposite corner as the villain. What matters is confirming the legitimacy of their emotions and allowing them to vent, and then promising to get the bottom of the problem. In some cases, what they’re bringing up can be a potential issue in the future.

Employ suggestions in place of commands

Hired employees

Agitated individuals don’t respond positively to patronising and authoritative statements. They will see the placating words as an attack and will bite back with equal force. Instead, managers should consider using suggestions. It will make you come off as someone who listens while enforcing the action that you want. The receiving party will follow your recommendations even without them knowing.

The “Question Statement” is an effective strategy to emphasise what the manager wants the aggrieved party to do. Using the sentence, “Would you mind taking a seat so that I can listen better?” sounds less forceful than “Sit down and calm yourself!”

As teams continue to become bigger and more diverse, it is in the best interests of managers to learn de-escalation techniques. Some skills such as environmental assessment, active listening, and using suggestions should be in their toolbox.

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