Five Steps to De-escalate Conflict

Five Steps to De-escalate Conflict

I had a person tell me this past week that they had the gift of de-escalating conflict.  I asked them what they meant by that and they said that they were able to calm situations down no matter what was happening around him.  Wow!  That is a great gift to possess.

What if you had the ability to de-escalate conflict?  Would that be important to you?  How would that impact your family, your workplace, your community, and your church?

Conflict is a part of all of our lives.  Conflict cannot be avoided altogether.  If you are relating to other people you will find yourself experiencing conflict.  But what you do in the conflict will often determine the outcome of the conflict.  Some behaviors and communication will exasperate the conflict and make it much worse.  Others will de-escalate the conflict.  This brief article is designed to help you think through your response to conflict so you can have a better result with conflict that comes your way.

Five steps to de-escalate conflict

  1. Know the difference between conflict and competing ideas.

Conflict and competing ideas are not the same thing.  Competing ideas is necessary for coming up with the best solutions.  Not all competing ideas cause conflict.  Conflict arises when competing ideas are a threat to our self-worth.  When someone’s idea tramples your values and what is most important to you, you are likely to experience conflict.  Be careful about entering into conflict just because someone states an idea strongly or it is different from your own.  Know the difference between conflict and competing ideas.  If it is a competing idea, you can debate what is best and chose the better solution.  If you or the other person’s values are threatened, then you have a strong possibility of entering into conflict – something important to you.  If you see every competing idea as a conflict, you will experience more conflict than is necessary.

  1. Recognize that when someone’s motivation changes, they are in conflict about something that is important to them

Relational Awareness theory teaches us that people’s motivation changes when they go into conflict.  They only go into conflict about things that they value (their MVS is a clue).  The good thing about conflict is that you can recognize when most people enter into conflict because their motives shift and so do behaviors that accompany motivations.  The shift for some is dramatic and for others are more subtle.  Pay attention to when people go into conflict.  For instance, a person who is normally loud and direct suddenly becomes quiet and reflective or a person who is usually cautious and reserved suddenly speaks directly.  These are signs that you are in conflict with another person and need to pay attention.  If you fail to note the shift, you run the risk of escalating the conflict.  Being sensitive to these shifts in motivation are what people with the “gift” of de-escalating conflict possess.

  1. Identify their MVS

Once you know that a person is on conflict and they are shifting motivation, you need to remember what their MVS is when they are not in conflict.  The key to de-escalating a conflict is to recognize what is most important to the person before they changed motivation and accompanying behaviors.  If they are RED, you know that performance (achievement, movement) is important and may be threatened.  If they are GREEN, you know that process (getting things right and doing them in the right way, order) may be threatened.  If they are BLUE, you know that people (caring for others, maintaining peace) are important.  Once you have their MVS in mind, you will know better how to communicate to them about the things that are most important to them to de-escalate the conflict.

  1. Respond to the face you see while remembering their MVS and what is important to them

It is not enough to know a person’s MVS and what is important to them.  You must learn to communicate in a way that they are able to accept.  A simple rule of thumb is to respond to the “face you see in front of you”.  By that I mean that if you see someone withdraw by being quiet or even moving backward physically, you follow course and take a step back or speak softer or get quiet.  Our temptation may be to try to get them to engage, but that may defeat your goal.  They are moving backward to gain space to process (GREEN).  Give them that space and assure them that you want to engage about what is important to them.  If they are RED, simply communicate that you are committed to keep moving, then allow them time to process.  By considering the MVS of the person in the conflict you will know what to say to assure them of your commitment to people, performance, process, or perspective.  This takes some practice as our tendency is to defend ourselves and what is important to ourselves first.

  1. Address the issue that is important to their MVS

Once the person is ready to engage again, be sure to address the issue that is important to them.  Listen and ask questions.  Explore options to address the concerns.  Find a way to address the needs of person.  You may not be able to accommodate every desire, but if you give time to exploring and considering their input, you may be able to de-escalate the conflict and find a way forward.

Most people hate conflict.  Some will avoid it altogether if possible.  By developing these skills of de-escalating conflict using Relational Awareness concepts, you will develop a reputation of being a person with the gift of “de-escalating conflict”.  More importantly, you will be more productive and experience more peace and harmony in working together.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.