Friday, December 5, 2014

Conflict Resolution: Bringing It Down A Notch

Everyone has their own way of dealing with conflict.  Some seem energized by the argument and love a good debate.  Others would rather slowly slink away and avoid the tension.  It is very difficult to stay in the middle of those two options in order to balance "staying" while still "working toward de-escalation."

This post is by no means the answer to conflict.  It is not the best advice for everyone and every situation.  But it is something in my toolkit that has been very helpful in interacting with upset or angry individuals in a variety of circumstances.

1. Verbalize the Emotion
Whether you are interacting with a child you parent or with an angry customer, it can be helpful to name their emotion, before you jump into problem solving.  For example, if you have an irate customer, it may be helpful to listen and then say "This has really been frustrating for you."  If you have a child who is stomping their feet, you may want to say "You REALLY want that toy.  It is so hard to wait." 

This accomplishes a few things.  First, it identifies their emotion if they don't realize what it is.  For adults, the person may be reacting to a difficult situation, without realize they are losing control or so irate.  Sometimes verbalizing the feeling let's them know how they impact you and also helps them know that their underlying struggle is identified and heard.  With a child who is just learning about emotions and self-control, you are teaching them what the word is for that emotion and how they could communicate it verbally rather than losing control. 

2. Bring the Word Down a Notch
Once you have identified a word for their emotion, you may wish to bring the word down to a somewhat calmer state.  For example, if the customer is irate, you may wish to say "You are very frustrated right now."  Very frustrated is somewhat calmer than irate, but not so far away from their emotion that they are apt to dismiss your comment.  If they continue to shout but perhaps are calming somewhat, you could say, "I see how upseting this has been.  Let me first address your concern about X."  So, you are now calling them upset, which is a step down from very frustrated. 

Will this help the situation all the time?  No.  Is this the only tool you should have at your disposal?  No.  But sometimes having some ideas for responding helps us avoid either pushing back (and making things worse) or slinking away (which makes things worse too!).