The threat of workplace violence is real. We see incidents in the news every week and those are only the severe and high-profile stories. Many more incidents can go unreported each year. If you recognize indicators of potential violence in your workplace, how should you handle them? How can you help de-escalate a situation?
Verbal ways to help de-escalate an individual or situation:
- DO: Use Verbal Judo (See below)
- DON’T: say things like - “You wouldn’t understand,” “Because those are the rules,” “It’s none of your business,” “Calm down,” “I’m not going to say this again,” “Why don’t you be reasonable?”
Nonverbal ways to help de-escalate an individual or situation:
- DO: Palms up, open body stance
- DON’T: Point, put your palms down, or cross your arms
What Is Verbal Judo?
Verbal Judo is a communication methodology developed by Dr. George Thompson. It is a way to diffuse conflict through conversation.
The first principle of physical judo is to not resist your opponent. Instead, you try to move with them and redirect their energy. Likewise, in Verbal Judo you don’t ignore or dismiss a question since that would be the same as resisting it.
When attempting to diffuse the conflict through Verbal Judo, consider the following:
- Always attempt to answer, not avoid.
- Leap into the questions with energy. Turn them into opportunities to explain yourself, tell what you do, justify your views. This creates the chance to educate a person, to win their respect, and provide them with deeper understanding so they won’t go away angry.
- Control encounters; don’t become a victim of them.
- Think of yourself as a contact professional that can control the situation.
- If you can’t control yourself, you can’t control the situation. It starts with you. You have to be in control to create control.
Use The Acronym LEAPS As A Tool To Generate Voluntary Compliance
Listen - When you listen you have to look and act like you’re listening. A person may not be making sense, but the moment your eyes glaze over or you get “lost” in the conversation, it appears you are not interested and conflict can occur.
Empathize – Empathy is the quality of standing in another’s shoes and understanding where they are coming from. This doesn’t suggest you have to agree with the individual, just try to understand where the person is coming from. Empathy does absorb tension, which can help significantly!
The ultimate empathetic question is, “Let me be sure I heard/understood what you said.” Once posed this question, the individual will be more likely to quiet down and listen because they want to make sure you heard what they wanted you to hear.
Ask – There is a process of asking questions that can make you more skillful in deescalating a situation.
- Fact-Finding – ask the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don’t be too quick with an answer before you can define the question.
- Ask for specific data. Don’t lead to your point of view, rather be as general as you can. This makes you appear caring, open, and unbiased.
- “Is there some way we can solve this problem?” is a powerful question —everyone likes to voice their opinion and they might even have something constructive to say!
Paraphrase – When someone comes at you with verbal abuse, forget the tone and emotion. Put the complaint into your own words and play it back for them. Even if you’ve misunderstood, they will see that you are trying and they may want to help you get it right. It provides an opportunity for them to correct you if you have not heard them correctly.
By paraphrasing the question back to them, you have taken control of the conversation because you are talking and they are listening. Paraphrasing is gentle. It tones down the volume and makes a diatribe a conversation.
Summarize – By definition, summarize means condensing and taking all the information to put it into a concise statement. There are three qualities needed – it must be brief, concise, and above all, inarguable. You should sound as if you have reached the end, and you are now, in your professional capacity, executing the conclusion of the matter. Doing this with the first 4 LEAPS will have your audience more open and receptive.
Knowing how to effectively diffuse a conflict is critical to preventing workplace violence. With proper training and education, your employees can be prepared to react appropriately should a conflict arise.