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Guidance on Conflict De-Escalation

Guidance on Conflict De-Escalation

Hello and welcome to today’s podcast. I am Mercie McLough. I am elated to have the entire team here with me. Conflict, as you all know, is inevitable in an organization. This not only happens in the workplace but also in the private spaces that we live in. Conflict occurs due to various reasons such as varying beliefs, different goals, varying behaviours, and other elements that bring out the unique character of each employee. According to Etkin & Memmi (Writing in 2021), conflict is especially good when discussing objective aspects of an organization because team members can raise varying opinions, which are then questioned critically by others. However, conflict at times occurs due to inappropriate behaviours that some employees demonstrate towards their colleagues. These behaviours can be interpreted as abuse of different kinds. When such occurrences take place, the involved parties get into a conflict situation. Hussein & Al-Mamary (writing in 2019) point out that these conflicts usually escalate if not resolved. Since this is a common phenomenon, I will take us through the process of de-escalating conflict.

I wish to start us off with the process of conflict and its escalation. This initial analysis will create a chronological process that will lead us to our main goal, which is de-escalation. Think about your most recent conflict.

Whom did it involve?

What was the cause of the conflict?

Who was in the wrong?

Was the victim angry?

How did it end?

Most of us will remember a conflict that involved our colleagues or other people in our lives. In many cases, the parties involved in a conflict have varying power rankings. According to Skiba (2020), “Power imbalance or rank creates conflict and provokes anger because those with higher rank are often unaware of their oppressive use of their rank or power, can act with impunity in a way which impedes or interferes with the needs of others and often ignore, marginalize, or exclude those with lower power or rank”. This statement implies that the individuals in higher positions such as our managers and supervisors are more likely to come across as perpetrators or initiators of conflict. This assumption is based on their insensitivity regarding oppressive behaviours, which can be conscious or unconscious. Their behaviours tend to ignore others in lower positions, exclude them or even marginalize them. This aspect results in anger among the individuals occupying subordinate positions.

Before conflict yields anger, it starts off with frustration. If such anger remains untreated, it worsens into violence or other forms of aggression and irrational tendencies. If a colleague offends another, the offended individual is bound to express frustration over the issue. According to Omisore & Abiodun (Writing in 2014), when the issue is not resolved in good time, the offended person may start to behave irrationally due to anger. Sometimes, this anger brews because the offended party lacks an idea of how they could articulate the issue to the supervisor or manager.

So, why does anger occur in a conflict situation?

Anger is a negative emotion that is connected to needs that are unmet. Skiba (Writing in 2020), states that “The cause of anger is almost always an unmet need for control, information, to be listened to, to feel safe or to be pain-free; it may have psychological antecedents or be triggered by fear”. This explanation provides varying aspects that are connected to anger, such as lack of control, misinformation, presence of pain or fear, and the need to be heard. As an employee, you are likely to get angry if someone gets in the way of your process of goal achievement. When we are angry, neurotransmitters, including dopamine, noradrenaline, and adrenaline spike. This spike leads to heightened heart rate, and more blood flows to the arms and muscles. This biological response prepares each individual for defence through fight or flight. It also meets the energy needs of the situation. During this moment, when the physiological responses are in play, the parties involved in conflict lack the mental capacity to de-escalate the situation. Author Skiba 2020, points out that, that is why we find ourselves incapable of thinking rationally when angry, which usually manifests in irrational behaviours such as banging doors, breaking things, yelling, and screaming, among others.

How do we move forward?

At this point, it is necessary to note that we are responsible for identifying escalating situations. In this case, I refer to employees within all ranks. We should all remain alert to know when our anger or a colleague’s anger is escalating into conflict. This escalation is exhibited through increased excitation. The people involved in a conflict may start to clench their fists, tighten/untighten their jaws, pace, or fidget more, and change of tone or body language. Additionally, they may manifest irrational behaviours such as yelling, screaming, bullying, use of offensive language, defiance/lack of compliance with regulations, or increased pitch. According to Skiba (2020), when one anticipates conflict, it is a sure way of managing the situation effectively. This knowledge takes us to the most important aspect of this podcast, the de-escalation of conflict.

De-escalation refers to the actions that are taken to ensure stability in a conflict situation. The action should reduce or mitigate the threat’s immediacy to allow access to sufficient resources to address the issue. De-escalation’s main purpose is to ensure that the involved parties are voluntarily compliant when the time is right. According to Skiba (2020), this leads to the reduction/elimination of the need to apply physical force. In simpler words, de-escalation takes a conflict situation from a 10 to a 5, high to reduced tension.

Both verbal and non-verbal strategies can be used to de-escalate a conflict situation. The individual who intends to de-escalate such a situation must be calm enough before engaging others. This individual may be the aggrieved party, the perpetrator, or a mediator such as myself. I cannot de-escalate a situation when angry, mentally, or emotionally disturbed. Such a situation may introduce feelings of threat and cause the involved parties to be defensive. I must also be aware of the situation to create personal connections, actively listen to both parties, create a sense of hope, and seek agreement from both parties.

One such reliable process of de-escalation is summarized into observing, orienting, deciding, and acting. While observing, one can appreciate and understand the situation. Orientation allows the mediator to consider all information that is gathered or provided about the conflict. This information is compared to an individual’s training, knowledge, and experiences. Skiba (2020) argues that decisions are made based on the most reliable course of action. Finally, action is taken to achieve the desired results.

A different approach to de-escalation of conflict situations can take nine stages that progress in a descending mode. The nine stages are divided into three phases. The first three are termed ‘win-win’, the second three are known as ‘win-lose’ and the last three are known as ‘lose-lose’ (Skiba, 2020). Based on this approach, parties to a conflict lose the capacity to cooperate with each other constructively because their successive or mutual experiences are broken down. One can use this approach to determine the stage of a conflict. Thus, one can make relevant decisions that effectively de-escalate the issue.

Regardless of the approach that one applies for de-escalation purposes, there are specific elements that characterize each. These elements are not only characteristics but are also important for successful de-escalation. First, listening to both parties’ concerns creates the basis of understanding the situation. For instance, if a colleague offends another at work, there is a high probability that the offended individual will find someone to talk to. This desire to express the issues provides a great opportunity for de-escalation. If a colleague approaches you and tells you about an issue, this gives you an opportunity to play a role in de-escalation. People air their concerns, feelings, frustrations, and perspectives at this stage. As a mediator, it is my responsibility to assure the individual that they are heard and listen actively as they air their issues. To affirm to the other party that you are listening actively, it is important to use verbal and non-verbal cues. These include nodding one’s head in affirmation, inclining one’s head slightly, maintaining eye contact, and posing in a non-threatening manner. Empathizing with the individual is important because it assures them that you share in their pain and frustration.

Secondly, in a case where the mediator observes an event that could lead to conflict, they should assess the aggrieved person’s state. If the colleague is overwhelmed by the situation, one can deflect its occurrence by calling out the perpetrator and changing the subject. This strategy halts the entire conflict escalation process by avoiding further anger and frustration. In case the event is already complete, the mediator can call in the colleague for a conversation. The conversation should provide information on the occurrences and their genesis. This action validates the aggrieved person’s feelings since emotions are rarely inappropriate. Peterson & Parnell (writing 2014) point out that every colleague is entitled to their feelings. Thus, acknowledging the negative feelings that arise from the situation is an important step. It enables the colleague to shift their thoughts from negative and aggressive thoughts to critical reflection. This shift interrupts the cycle of conflict.

In a normal work situation like ours, people often call out for security whenever conflict escalates into uncontrollable forms such as verbal abuse, physical violence, or other irrational behaviour. However, this podcast is expected to turn all colleagues, not first responders. I am not diminishing the role of security during such instances. I wish to emphasize that we can all play a more active and positive role in attaining better outcomes after conflict. When we call for help, we are reacting to the situation. In addition, we only address part of the issue. According to the Director of Michigan Medicine Security, Brian Uridge, one incident is contagious enough to raise the anxiety and probability of other incidents (Bauer, 2021). This contagion is significant yet under-addressed. This means that one conflict situation at the workplace can affect other employees’ emotions negatively. When one witnesses aggression, their productivity reduces significantly due to a mental shift. It also leads employees to question their safety at the workplace, especially if violence is witnessed. Awan & Saeed (writing 2015) argue that such situations can have long-lasting detrimental effects on the witnesser’s physiology. The effects are likened to a personal experience of such an attack. Therefore, it is important that we all embrace the first responder’s role for everyone’s safety.

What if a conflict occurs between an employee and a client, how do I respond?

Conflict with clients is also highly probable. In such situations, calmness is important. This helps one to listen to the issues that the client needs to highlight. Secondly, do not blame others including the client. This serves a role in validating the other party’s feelings. Thirdly, investigate the root cause of the conflict. This can be achieved through asking sensitive questions such as;

Why are you upset?

What is the main issue?

The active listening role that we utilized earlier is also critical in this type of conflict. Paying attention to the speaker plays a critical role in validating their feelings. Fourth, it is important to admit mistakes before escalating the issue to a higher authority. However, if the client is in the wrong, be gentle with the news by first repeating the stated problem. Fifth, try to fix the issue if you have the capacity. Alternatively, seek the input of someone with the capacity to do so. Finally, thank the person for raising the issue. Based on these steps, the organization benefits immensely from clients who raise issues. Bauer (2021) points out that this offers an opportunity to improve services and products, retain the client through remedial action, and act differently in the future.

Thus, I would like to end this podcast by reiterating the inevitability of conflict, its causes, the need to respond, which de-escalates situations, and the potential benefits. I am glad that you all have the information you need to act as a first responder and the willingness to do so. Thank you all for your time.


Awan, A. G., & Saeed, S. (2015). Conflict Management and Organizational Performance: A Case. Research Journal of Finance and Accounting, 6(11), 88-102.

Bauer, T. (2021). De-Escalation At Work: An Overview Of What To Understand. Retrieved from NeuroLeadership Institute:

Etkin, J., & Memmi, S. A. (2021). Goal Conflict Encourages Work and Discourages Leisure. Journal of Consumer Research, 47(5), 716-736. doi:

Hussein, A. F., & Al-Mamary, Y. H. (2019). Conflicts: Their types, and their negative and positive effects on organisations. International Journal of Scientific & Technology, 8(8), 10-13.

Omisore, B. O., & Abiodun, A. R. (2014). Organizational Conflicts: Causes, Effects and Remedies. International Journal of Academic Research in Economics and Management Sciences, 3(6), 118-137. doi:10.6007/IJAREMS/v3-i6/1351

Peterson, R., & Parnell, M. (2014). Conflict De-escalation.

Skiba, R. (2020). Conflict De-Escalation: Workplace Training. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 8(7). doi:10.4236/


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Perceived Stalemate and De-escalation

At some point in the life of a conflict, it always ends. People in an escalated conflict can only do so much damage to each other – and for so long. Think for a moment about war, which is perhaps one of the worst types of violent escalation in existence. When one side has won, the battle ends. For a more lighthearted visual representation of de-escalation, watch the videos listed in your resources.

Guidance on Conflict De-Escalation

Guidance on Conflict De-Escalation

Even though the escalation in this video didn’t involve a specific conflict, the dynamics of escalation remain at play. As in a typical de-escalation situation, the process stops and is replaced by de-escalation, usually for one of the following reasons: one party overwhelms the other into submission, one party is able to take unilateral advantage of the other, the involved parties are redirected to another activity, an intervener comes along and imposes a settlement of the conflict, or the parties stop fighting and negotiate a settlement – perhaps with the help of a mediator.

Typically, the choice to enter into negotiations grows out of a perceived stalemate. If one (or more) of the parties to the conflict believe(s) there is too much risk involved in continuing in the conflict space, or that another party is assuming too much power in the conflict, then that party (or parties) will stop escalating the conflict. This does not mean de-escalation will happen immediately, it just means the water will stop boiling and the conflict will begin to simmer in its current state. Going back to the idea of war, sometimes a sudden upward spike in battlefield casualties will cause one side to stop and rethink their position in the conflict. In order to truly de-escalate conflict and allow the parties to move forward, they must first get unstuck from their current positions. As you move through this week’s readings, train yourself to begin noticing the places where stalemate and de-escalation are occurring in a conflict, and think about how you might insert yourself as a mediating party to help those involved in reconciliatory activities.

Be sure to review this week’s resources carefully. You are expected to apply the information from these resources when you prepare your assignments.

This week, you will move to part two of the assignment you mapped last week. You are the company ombudsperson, and Laura has come to you seeking help with her escalated conflict. You discuss potential ways forward with Laura, and she leaves your office feeling positive about the outcome. As you reflect on the situation, you realize Laura is not the first person to come to you with a problem of this nature and decide for next week’s organization-sponsored podcast, you’ll do a segment on conflict de-escalation. And for ethical and privacy considerations, you will not include Laura’s name in the commentary.

If you are new to podcasting, the information below might be helpful to you.

Remember, a podcast is a digital media file and in this case, an audio file, which is what you will create.
Write out your script for the podcast to help you time it and to ensure you have included the required content.
Begin your podcast by providing relevant information and establishing a clear purpose that engages the listener.
Demonstrate thorough knowledge of the topic using relevant, quality details that go beyond the obvious.
Focus on your topic.
Be sure to include details from your experience on the topic along with your researched information.
Make sure there is a brief conclusion that connects the information in the podcast.

Use CaptureSpace to record your podcast. Instructions for using CaptureSpace are included in the Course Resources module.

Podcasts are evaluated based on the following information: 1) how well the introduction sets the scene; 2) clarity, accuracy, and relevance of content; 3) whether the conclusion provided a clear summary of the main points; 4) the structure and flow of the podcast, and 5) technical sound quality (volume and clarity). Creativity is also considered.

Support your podcast with at least five scholarly or professional resources. In addition to these specified resources, other appropriate scholarly resources, including seminal articles, may be included.

Length: 10-15 minutes. Be sure to submit the podcast transcript, along with a reference page, including a link to your podcast.

References: Include a minimum of 5 scholarly resources.

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