No matter what your business, your employees are your greatest asset. Without a well-functioning team, you'll never accomplish your goals and sustain a healthy organization. It would be wonderful if employees got along every day, putting their egos aside to work towards a mutual mission. Wonderful… but not realistic.
In reality, you've got individuals who come to work with unique personalities, life experiences, and quirky behaviors, and are expected to work hand-in-hand with others (who all come bearing their own personalities, life experiences, and quirky behaviors). With all of these people in the mix, challenges are bound to ensue.
For most people, co-workers spend more time together than family members. So what happens when they have disagreements or full-out clashes with one another?
Well, their productivity suffers, workplace satisfaction takes a nosedive, and ultimately, the repercussions can be felt by your customers. Once customers become aware of a problem (whether it's obvious or just something they can feel), your sales and bottom line will suffer.
With the welfare of your business at stake, it's essential that you learn how to create peace in your organization and keep your team working together towards a common goal. De-escalation techniques will help you do this.
What are de-escalation techniques?
De-escalation is a process by which you calm the situation before it gets worse. This can be done through a variety of techniques involving breathing, active listening, asking questions, being compassionate, and the use of body language.
Let's take a closer look at how these can help de-escalate your next workplace conflict.
When an argument begins, our bodies are forced into a fight, flight, or freeze mode. Our breathing becomes labored, our heart rate increases, and we're literally ready to fight our "attacker" or flee the situation. Neither of these solutions is ideal for workplace conflict. Physical altercations are frowned upon and bolting out of a meeting will definitely raise some eyebrows.
Controlled breathing benefits a heated situation in multiple ways. First, taking a deep breath calms your nervous system, allowing you to think (and respond) clearly and calmly. With focused breathing, you can lower your heart rate and your blood pressure, and take yourself out of this common stress response. Second, a few moments of deep breathing can give you the time you need to collect your thoughts so you don't say or do anything that could cause lasting damage.
Take a few deep breaths, pausing in between inhalation and exhalation. Once you feel calmer, you can discuss the situation from a healthy, effective place.
2. Active Listening and Asking Questions
One of the main facets of de-escalation is improved communication. It's safe to say that most, if not all, workplace arguments arise out of a lack of proper communication. When people don't understand their role and responsibilities in a project, the expectations that have been set forth, and the repercussions if those expectations have not been met, misunderstandings can mushroom into a relationship and career-damaging battle. Add to that how many conversations occur through email or text (which is easily misconstrued) and it's surprising that there aren't more conflicts in any organization.
Improving your communication will help prevent misunderstandings from occurring, and will help you to de-escalate them when they do.
Active listening requires you to actually listen to the other person, rather than interrupting them, rushing them, or spending the time in your head plotting out what you'll say next. When you listen to the other person, they feel heard and appreciated, and their anger will begin to subside.
Asking questions (and listening to the answers!) allows you to hear their side of the story and get down to the actual root of the problem. Remember that there are always three sides to a story: yours, theirs, and what actually happened. Be open to hearing how they have interpreted something and how it may be different than how you intended it.
3. Being Compassionate
Now that you've accepted that your interpretation of an event or conversation may not be the same as theirs, it's time to show some empathy towards them. They may react to the same stimuli differently than you, however, that doesn't make them wrong. Be kind and realize that you must work together to come to a mutual agreement and keep the peace.
4. Body Language
Experts agree that between 70-93% of communication is nonverbal. That means you may intend to say one thing, but your body could be saying something entirely different.
Be careful not to cross your arms (which can be seen as defensive) or point fingers (which appears as offensive). Not making eye contact can be construed as boredom or a lack of concern on your part.
Nonverbal communication can also work in your favor. There are certain techniques, like mirroring the other person's body language, that will actually improve the conversation and help to build rapport at the moment.
Just as conflict appears differently depending on the environment and the players involved, the solutions to this conflict will differ as well. Every individual in a company should be aware of these techniques to assist in their own disagreements as well as the arguments of others.
Let's take a look at these common workplace situations:
1. Breathing Example
Bob's in-laws are visiting for the week and he's spent the weekend trying to lay low and keep his wife calm. On Monday morning, he's grateful to be back at work and away from the family drama. He walks into the office only to be verbally attacked by a coworker who believes he has not completed his responsibilities on a joint project.
Without any knowledge of de-escalation techniques, Bob may return fire. With his blood pressure spiking, he'd raise his voice to defend himself and turn the situation into a screaming match in front of fellow employees and even customers. Of course, if Bob was properly trained, he'd be able to take a few deep breaths to relax his nervous system, and then calmly ask his coworker what specific tasks he did not complete so that he can either apologize and get them done, or explain which team member was responsible for those items.
2. Active Listening and Asking Questions Example
Mary has been told that she's allowed to listen to music in her cubicle as long as it's kept at a reasonable volume and doesn't contain anything inappropriate. Not wanting to offend her coworkers, Mary keeps the music low and generic. Susan sits on the other side of that cubicle wall and feels that the music interferes with her work.
Susan lets her frustration build until she can't hold in her anger any longer. She leans over the cubicle, red-faced and pointing, and threatens to throw Mary's radio out the third-story window.
With the threat of physical violence hanging in the air, Mary has two options. She can counter the threat with one of her own, or she can breathe, relax her posture, and calmly ask Susan what level of sound would allow her to concentrate at her desk. She could also ask probing questions to see if the music is what's really bothering Susan, or if there's something else under the surface.
Situations like these happen every day in the workplace. Knowing how to diffuse them is essential to a peaceful and productive work environment.
The Benefits of De-Escalation in a Company
Learning de-escalation techniques and training your entire team from HR, to managers, to your frontline workers can have a multitude of benefits for your organization. These include (but are not limited to):
Minimizing Conflict. When team members can communicate better and work out disagreements before they become full-blown battles, you'll see less conflict and less drama.
Improving Teamwork. When employees respect one another and can work peacefully with one another, they work better and accomplish goals faster. You'll have an actual team at your disposal as opposed to individuals working in silos.
Increasing your Bottom Line. When people work better together, they work faster, accomplish more, and earn more money for your organization.
Reducing Turnover. Happy employees who have high levels of job satisfaction rarely jump ship in search of new opportunities. Rather than constantly trying to replace valuable team members, you'll hold on to the employees that are moving your organization forward.
Whenever you have different personalities coming together to complete a common goal, misunderstandings are bound to happen. With the right de-escalation training, you can ensure that when minor issues arise, they don't turn into major battles that ruin relationships and damage your bottom line.
Originally published Jul 27, 2021 8:00:00 AM, updated July 27 2021