De-escalate Confrontation To Create Engagement

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Angry frustration surfaces within and between organizations and individuals all the time. Sometimes it escalates in ugly ways.

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.  – Epictetus

Consider this scenario: Your business partner organization is feeling very threatened. Your team has been awarded funding for a project that they believe they totally own. The funder is sending them a message, but your partner doesn’t hear it – they are mad at you and are finding ways to undermine you.

De-escalation is proving preferable to confrontation in areas like policing. Maybe we should think the same way in organizations.

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element…it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated… – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe*

How do we de-escalate a real or potential threat / crisis when it is driven by the anger of others, and maybe ours too? Let’s use the above scenario to illustrate one way to engage the better way. Try this when you talk with them:

Sounds like you are quite upset by what’s going on.    Just say it and listen – don’t engage. Not yet!

How did you manage to do as well as you have so far?    Or  

If others were to give you credit for the good work done so far, what would they say?

How did that work?

What might have gone better?

Sounds like you have accomplished a lot. Thinking of the shift in funding what do you see yourself doing with the knowledge and skills you have? How else might you continue to be successful in other ways?

Notice that the frustrated partners are now talking a little more purposefully about themselves, not the funder or you. They are beginning to think about solutions for themselves.

De-escalate to engage in solutions (theirs) and make progress. The miracles can wait.        

Is this conversation going to create a dramatic change in attitude? Likely not, but it will give the other party things to think about … while you get on with your newly funded project. Who knows, they might become a contributor to the new project!

*The whole quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.


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