De-Escalating Conflict

June 6, 2018

Author: Peter Deeley

The tragic news events of the last few years, whether shootings in schools or so called “disgruntled employee” (what ever that means) have made a distinct stain on our society. What immediately comes to mind after the investigations have been done is that no counseling interventions or any other options were used to prevent a tragic episode. There only seems to be two options open to authorities: nickel bracelets or nothing!

There seems to be a large gap that is not covered when it comes to any interventions, between escalation and crisis. Very often, escalation is not serious enough for the authorities to intervene. Were they a danger to others? No! So any interventions during an escalation, at this point, is not required! As little as thirty minutes latter may be a different issue. Before any of this is cleared up a lot more dialogue will have to be exchanged and well-defined decisions made.

Meanwhile, it has been left to the public, with no formal training, to deal with just these situations before there is a crisis; but if not well then we do our best during a crisis.

When a Crisis Begins

When an angry person approaches you and starts shouting and yelling at you; you must:

  • Remain calm;
  • Remain confident;
  • Listen.

All three of these are not easy to do under the current situation. I recommend role-playing with a trained instructor to gain confidence.

In general, a person who storms into your office being extremely vocal at that time, will not be a physical danger; however, don’t let your guard down. Let them vent, and look attentive to their concerns. No doubt, a supervisor will be behind them saying they must leave the premises. Ask the supervisor to wait and you will take care of it.

This is a role-playing scenario. Your objective at this point, and must maintain, is to deescalate. The actual cause, at this point, cannot and should not be handled. Don’t argue the cause. For the sake of a realistic scenario, this is one of the worst. The supervisor is well within the policy to ask the aggressor to leave. He was caught red-handed breaking important company policy and thought he could intimidate the supervisor by becoming loudly vocal.

Maintain Safety

Do not put hands on the subject, as this is what he is hoping you will do, so that he can escalate further. Wait until there is a lull in the tirade and ask them to sit down.

Ask what happened, or why they are so upset? Keep all questions open-ended and remain calm.

Avoid using belittling words and phrases like:

  • “Calm down!”
  • “What’s your problem?”

Rather, use phrases like:

  • “Let me try to help you.”
  • “I understand, let’s see what we can do together.”

Still bearing mind, you do not want to undermine your supervising employee’s directions, nor compromise the rules and policies of the company. Instead,; quid pro quo would be better. This angry person is not getting off a penalty; he will have to work for it in a constructive way. They have to return to a level less verbally abusive mode of clear understandable dialogue. We’re not there yet!

At this point, if at all possible, move everybody away from the doorway and from line of sight of your subject. However, your Rapid Reaction Team should be also out of sight, but ready. The Rapid Reaction Team will be a latter article. Keep the door open, sit down or stand at a forty-five degree angle on the right-hand side of our upset person, but also give yourself an exit out of the office if things do not go right. If they sit, you may sit: otherwise, stand. Do not be directly in front of them, remain at an angle, “out of their face.”

The forty-five degree angle is first to put yourself in a non-threatening position, and a place where you are safer from an attack. Typically, you would be on their right-hand side, their “strong” side, but if you noticed they were left-handed you would stand on their left. However, being on the other side is not incorrect, and serves us just as well mechanically. For a person to hit you from this position they would draw their hand across their body. This is when you seize the elbow with both hands and “assist” to the ground. This technique can be taught and practiced in the MAB classes for rapid reaction team training.

If the aggressor yells, “Get out of my face!!”, respond, “You walked into my office. You must have a purpose in mind. What would you like me to do for you?”

  • Move further from the aggressor, give him some space.
  • Lessen your eye contact.
  • Give him or her assurance you understand his or her feelings.

We are trying at this point to lower his or her anxiety level.

Verbal Strategies

Another technique to defuse the situation is to take away the aggressor’s excuses:


  • “They won’t listen!” “I am listening to you.”
  • “I have kids to feed.” “Most of us here have people who depend on us.”
  • “This is unfair!” “Please explain, why is it unfair?”
  • “Payroll fraud” “Let us go through your pay and see what happened.”
  • “You have no idea what I am going through.” “I am willing to let you explain.”
  • You are accusing me of fraud. I didn’t do it.” “We are not accusing you; we want to hear your side of it.”

These are only a few examples. A lot of these you will have to make up “on the fly.” Developing the skills to do this will require role-playing. Yes, I know; many people feel uncomfortable with role-playing, especially when you have no affinity for acting, but there is really no other way.

Training for People with Busy Schedules

For those busy executives, you could make it a little less dramatic and in a closed conference room, relate responses to angry words and each person makes his own notes. Maybe “tape” the exchanges and form your own “focus group” to make suggestions.

There is Hope

With more companies, schools, intervention groups learning these skills, maybe we can begin to make the country a safer place and prevent crisis and tragedy from happening.

Be safe!

Peter Deeley

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