How to de-escalate a conflict situation

November 11, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

COVID-19. Civil unrest. Politics. Shutdowns. The economy.

If you find yourself feeling a bit anxious or on edge these days, you are not alone.

“All of those things combined are creating a lot of heightened anxiety and exhaustion,” says Elizabeth Hill, LCPC, licensed clinical professional counselor and supervisor of rehabilitation services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Those feelings can, at times, boil over and lead to some tense moments. Now, more than ever, it’s important to know how to recognize anxiety and tension, develop the skills to deal with tense situations and to de-escalate those situations, if necessary.

A crisis prevention institute instructor, Hill helps train people to recognize tense situations and teaches them the skills to keep those situations from escalating.

“A lot of the training evolves around de-escalating and understanding what emotions or behaviors people are exhibiting, meeting people where they are and responding appropriately,” she says.

Understanding the precipitating factors that were brought into a situation are key in tense moments. The person who is confronting you about wearing a mask or cutting you off in traffic brings their own baggage to the situation.

“Remember, everyone has got their own story,” says Hill. “That person is walking in with a whole lot of other things that we don’t know; just as we are. Providing some empathy and kindness is really important.”

If you are in a situation where you feel safe and you can listen to the other person, giving them time to vent their concerns and simply listening can go a long way.

Also, take a moment before you respond.  Don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Take a minute, think and then speak and be mindful of your body language and tone when you speak, Hill says. If you can, take a brisk walk to collect your thoughts before responding to that terse email or returning that phone call.

In tense situations, it also is important to be mindful of your surroundings and what you are feeling. If you are feeling threatened or unsafe, it’s important to listen to those feelings, says Hill. Don’t be afraid to walk away or seek help in those situations either by reaching out to others nearby or calling authorities.

“If you’re able to, walk away and disengage from the situation,” says Hill. “If you’re worried about other people’s safety or your own, find support or call 911.”

Sometimes, setting boundaries in advance can also help avoid tense situations. For example, if you are going to a family dinner where politics could become a heated debate, decide in advance whether you will broach those subjects with family members and how you will handle it. Setting limits on social media usage and how much television news you watch can also help lower your levels of stress and anxiety.

“Set some boundaries and try to surround yourself with positive things,” says Hill.

She also encourages people to look at their own lives and what they can improve. Work to understand your own biases and read more to educate yourself about the world around you, says Hill.

“Educating ourselves so we can understand where people are coming from helps give us a better picture and broader view of what is going on in the world around us,” she adds.

If you or a member of your family would benefit from working with a therapist, please contact Linden Oaks Behavioral Health at 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

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