Different Ways to De-Escalate When Conflict Has Taken Over
By Dr Becky Spelman
Conflict is an unavoidable part of our journey through life. And it can arise over anything such as simple disagreements over personal preference to full-blown arguments that requires a certain level of skill to de-escalate when the conflict has completely taken over. You’ve probably had such encounters in your romantic relationships, with friends, co-workers and other family member’s. Although these scenarios may vary with intensity, you can apply the same line of thinking resolve issues with getting embroiled further in animosity.
The best way to get around conflict is obviously to take preventative measures – to avoid emotionally triggering people. But sometimes this isn’t always possible, either through a lack of awareness or getting caught in the heat of the moment through stress and anger. Tempers can flare up out of nowhere. And when this happens, knowing how to de-escalate can make a huge difference, not just in your mental and emotional well-being, but the longevity of your relationships. The success you enjoy in all of your many inter-personal relations is rooted in how willing you are to be present and consciously engage your emotional intelligence.
Ask Yourself, “How I Could I Be Wrong in This Moment?”
The first thing to realise during conflict is that you may not be right. You may think that you are, but that is only from your perspective. And, of course, you might have a good case. But to assume that you always represent the side of ‘good,’ can be a limiting – and damaging – position to maintain. There are always three sides to any argument: your version, your opposite’s version and the truth of the matter lying somewhere in the middle.
By asking yourself the question of how you could be wrong, it opens up the possibility for reconciliation. It’s the beginning of the end of the stalemate. And a large part of this is recognising when you’re dealing in beliefs instead of facts to prove your point. Beliefs are assertions that may or may not be true. They’re intangible and can be moulded to fit any argument with enough skill. Far too often, they provide an unreliable narrative that can lead to further disagreements.
Allow yourself to become the objective observer. Look at what you really know to be true and can back up with concrete proof. But asking yourself how you could be wrong isn’t just about your stance, it also includes your attitude, body language and tone of voice. Be sure to check yourself at every level.
Identify the Core Issue and Focus on That Before Moving On
The reason why so many conflicts get out of hand is that they become unfocused. What initially may have been a trivial matter, leads to an unloading of grievances that may have been pent up for many days, weeks, or months. Communication is abandoned in favour of a game of one-upmanship – both sides using past situations to justify their actions in the present. This rarely ends well and leads to ongoing disputes that cause more friction.
If you’ve found yourself in a heated argument, remember how you reached this point. How many degrees of separation are there from the subject you’re debating now compared to the one that started your exchange? If it’s many times removed, take a step back. But also try calling it out. Reset the conversation and bring a little humour to the situation – if appropriate.
Remind each other where you started and try and bring your communication back to the starting point in a non-confrontational and non-judgemental manner. And if that isn’t possible, name the emotional elephant in the room. What is the actual cause of this conflict? Establish what need isn’t being met and try to provide it – or least acknowledge it. Set a clear goal for your conversation that you both agree is the thing you’re trying to resolve before moving on to anything else.
Stop Trying to Assign Blame and Take Accountability for Your Actions
When blame is used as the means of trying to prevail during a conflict, it presents the accuser as the victim and only increases the defensiveness on the opposite side. Shame, blame and guilt are three of the surest ways to worsen an already fractious exchange. There needs to be accountability of your actions. And that involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
You can’t continue to adopt the stance of victim in the hopes of eliciting sympathy. By showing that you’re willing to shoulder your share of responsibility, it can quickly break down the walls of defence on both sides, as long as you make it clear that you’re coming from a place of sincerity.
One of the best ways to do this is by offering an apology. Pick out something that you’ve been challenged on and say you’re sorry. However, don’t use this as a springboard to launch your next round of criticism. If you’re going to say you’re sorry, let it be an authentic gesture – and take responsibility for your emotions. It isn’t the other person’s fault you feel the way you do. It’s up to you to be in control of yourself and to not be so polarised by their actions.
Demonstrate Empathy and That You’ll Work with The Other Person
The core skill needed to successfully de-escalate any conflict is empathy. The one thing the person you’re communicating with wants to know above all else is that you understand their point of view. You can do this simply by asking questions and listening to what they have to say. If you can demonstrate that you’re actually listening to a person and not trying to inject your own ‘truths’ at every oppurtunity, it will bring a more even-handed tone to the conversation.
When you can listen to what people are saying without interruption, it gives you the chance to gain an additional perspective and question your own stance. But also, in doing this, you should be aware that although you may not understand their position completely, it doesn’t invalidate their emotions.
If someone feels so strongly as to relate something to you, then it’s clearly important to them. You should always to try to respect that and be supportive of their position. However, the best thing you can do goes beyond basic understanding. Don’t simply tell people you’ll meet them where they’re at – show them. Anyone can make a promise, but it takes real sincerity to follow through with them.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
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