We have all experienced conflict. There are myriad ways that conflict can arise, and there is no uniform solution on how best to deal with it. De-escalation is an important aspect of conflict management. It is not exactly synonymous with conflict avoidance, and it is not exactly the same as conflict resolution. Instead, it is some combination of the two.

You may need to de-escalate conflicts in many different situations, both in the workplace and in your personal life. Depending on the conflict, de-escalation can mean averting a potentially violent situation, or it can mean resolving a customer’s complaint during a phone conversation so that the customer does not complain to your manager.

Wherever there are tensions in interpersonal interactions, it is possible to de-escalate them, even if it is much harder to resolve the problem or to control the underlying circumstances that led to it.

How Can Police Officers De-Escalate Conflict?

Before you started your law enforcement career, you probably received some specialized training in how to de-escalate a tense confrontation and prevent violence without resorting to the use of force.

Even if, before joining the police force, you witnessed war and bloodshed during your time in the military, the frequency and intensity of conflicts that are your responsibility to resolve as a police officer may leave you wishing that you had learned a wider variety of strategies for de-escalating the kinds of conflicts involved with your current job.

Police are often called to the scene at the moment when an argument or stressful situation has escalated to where there is an immediate threat of violence. You should not start out with a threatening tone that will lead to an increase in angry feelings instead of a reduction of them. 

Your body language and tone of voice can make a big difference in making people feel that you are trying to protect them, as opposed to being just another party in a crisis where violence is unavoidable.

While there is safety in numbers, and it is better if multiple officers arrive on the scene, it is better if they are strategic about their response. Having multiple police officers enter your house at once is an intense and scary situation, even if you are the one who calls the police.

Conflict De-Escalation for Healthcare Professionals

The likelihood that you will encounter conflict at work is high if you work in the healthcare field. Doctors and nurses are trained in how to recognize the emotions of a patient and how to treat people with empathy.

The ideal situation is to let each interaction with the people under your care progress in a slow manner and to listen before you talk, but it is not always practical to do that. You don’t have time to discuss every little detail with each person seeking treatment.

Ultimately, doctors often come across as uncaring when they begin and end the visit quickly, simply because of the time pressure under which they must work. If you think you can determine the diagnosis even before you walk into the room, you should set up a timetable for the visit in your mind before you start.

Decide to spend a certain number of minutes listening before you attempt to give advice about treatment or follow-up services. This signals to the person that you are aware of what they are saying and are not just trying to rush through the visit quickly in the hope of collecting your paycheck. This can help you build a rapport with the people you treat and reduce tension in your workplace.

Verbal De-Escalation Should Be the New Gold Standard for Mental Health Care

Project BETA, a group of psychiatrists affiliated with various university hospitals, published a report setting new guidelines for de-escalating interactions with agitated patients in emergency rooms and psychiatric wards.

The authors wrote that many doctors, nurses, and other staff members working with psychiatric patients mistakenly assumed that mental illness meant that the patients were predisposed toward violence and took a heavy-handed approach with them at the first sign of agitation. They found that coercive measures are widespread in psychiatric care and that they make patients’ mental health worse.

A Gentle Approach Is Better for Everyone’s Mental Health

Seeking treatment during a mental health crisis should not feel like a war. The authors recommend verbal de-escalation as the preferred strategy for dealing with agitated patients. Caregivers should speak in a calm tone and be mindful of the patient’s personal space and tolerance for eye contact. The risk of violence increases if the patient feels threatened.

How to Use the HEARD Method

The HEARD method of de-escalation is applicable to any kind of workplace conflict. It is not limited to just one industry. You can use it with employees in different roles within your organization.

The HEARD method is especially effective when you are trying to de-escalate customer complaints over the phone. HEARD stands for hearing, empathy, acknowledgment, resolution, and diagnosis.

Hear the Other Person Out

Listening is a powerful act. It can quickly decrease tensions between parties in a conflict that has been going on for a long time. When you try to de-escalate a situation with a coworker or customer, the first thing to do is to hear what he or she has to say.

Let the person finish making his or her point, even if it takes a long time. Do not start offering your own ideas at this stage; doing so will only escalate the conflict. Instead, engage in active listening by asking open-ended questions.

Empathize With the Other Person’s Feelings

You might think that the person is angry about something trivial or is to blame for causing the problem, but you should keep these thoughts to yourself. Instead, before you move on to the next stage of de-escalation, paraphrase what the other person just told you to show that you were listening.

This way, you know you are in agreement about what the other person’s point of view is.

Acknowledge the Problem and Your Role In It

Some proponents of the HEARD method say that A stands for apologizing. Even if the next thing you do does not include the words “apology” or “sorry,” you should show that you are aware of your roles in creating and escalating the conflict situation. This way, it does not look like you are pointing fingers at other parties and deflecting responsibility from yourself.

Resolve the Present Issue

After you decrease the tension, you can shift your strategy to solutions. Both parties should propose solutions until they find one that they agree on.

Diagnose the Underlying Cause of the Conflict

After you have found a solution to the immediate problem, it is easier to understand how it fits into a larger problem, which may be very difficult to solve. If you cannot find a solution to the underlying causes of the issue, at least talk about them and acknowledge them.

De-Escalation Training Is for Everybody

No matter your line of work, you can benefit from formal de-escalation training on how to