Skip to Main Content
Bringing It Home – The Saint Rose Blog

In an age of disagreement, how to de-escalate conflict

Handshake in front of white wall

(Photo by Chris Liverani
via Unsplash)

Nationally, we’ve seen a waning ability to handle conflict and disagreement in a civil way. At The College of Saint Rose, our community values guide us to treat each other with respect. Recently, Dr. Shantel Powell, director of counseling services, and Steve Stella, director of safety and security, provided 10 tips for de-escalating conflict.

In moments of crisis, our mental and physical states can become overwhelmed and agitated trying to deal with the immediate stressor at hand. In a high-stress state, our ability to process and act on information can become compromised. If we are not deliberate and intentional about our response in times of crisis, we may respond in a manner that lacks respect and kindness.

As such, learning and rehearsing the following de-escalation tips can be useful tools to promote safety, open communication, poise, and dignity under high-pressure situations and events.

TIP 1: Breathe. Moments of high stress and strong emotions can cause breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath and rapid breathing. To help counter this response, take at least three deep breaths.

TIP 2: Focus on mindset. Remain calm, rational, and professional. While you can’t control the person’s behavior, how you respond to their behavior will have a direct effect on whether the situation escalates or defuses.

TIP 3: Focus on feelings and nonverbal cues. Be mindful of your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice. Keeping your tone and body language neutral will go a long way toward defusing a situation.

TIP 4: Be empathic and nonjudgmental. Pay attention to the person in front of you. Keep in mind that whatever they are going through may be the most important thing in their life at the moment.

TIP 5: Respect personal space. Allowing 1 1/2 to 3 feet of personal space tends to decrease a person’s anxiety and can help you prevent acting-out behavior. If you must enter someone’s personal space to provide care, explain your actions so the person feels less confused and frightened.

TIP 6: Be clear and set limits. If a person’s behavior is belligerent, defensive, or disruptive, give them clear, simple, enforceable, and respectful choices and consequences.   

TIP 7: Allow time for decisions. When a person is upset, allowing time to think clearly brings calm.

TIP 8: Allow silence for reflection. Allowing silence provides a person a chance to reflect on what’s happening and how he or she needs to proceed.

TIP 9: Choose wisely what you insist upon. Be thoughtful in deciding which rules are negotiable and which are not. If options and flexibility are possible, you may be able to avoid unnecessary altercations. If possible, avoid statements with “You must” or “You have to.”

TIP 10: Ignore challenging questions. Answering challenging questions often results in a power struggle. Bring their focus back to how you can work together to solve the problem.

What do you think?

Comments posted on this site are held in moderation until approved by a site administrator. Vulgar, profane, obscene, offensive terms or personal attacks will not be tolerated.