Deescalating a tense situation that can turn nasty – even violent – at any time involves both art and science. Some solutions are scientific strategies that have proven to help reduce anger and calm situations, and others are far less scientific and sophisticated – they just work.
For instance, Bill and Joan have been married for more than 50 years. Both are now retired, in their 70s, and seeing a marriage counselor for the first time ever. The reason: Bill has gotten increasingly angry with Joan and their life together.
However, at least Joan appears to have found a way to deal with Bill’s anger. The following is a transcript from one of their recent sessions with the marriage counselor:
- Bill says to Joan, “Whenever I get mad at you, you never seem to get upset. How do you manage to control your temper?”
- Joan replies, “I just go and clean the toilet.”
- Bill then asks, “How does that help?
- Joan says, “I use your toothbrush.”
Fact or fiction, I’m sure we all wish anger management could be this easy, but it’s not. In the real world, anger and fear can build very quickly – and quickly turn dangerous. Further, these situations can happen anywhere: in the grocery store, at a sporting event, at home, and in the workplace.
Because of this, as it pertains to the workplace, someone should know techniques to handle such situations. This could be a store manager, a company supervisor, even the manager of an office building.
We need this training more than ever today. For several reasons, from the transitions in the economy to the pandemic, tense situations appear to be happening more often.
Strategies to Deescalate a Tense Situation
Here are strategies that can help in deescalating a tense situation before it gets out of hand. They are not designed for when someone is threatening to harm others or themselves with a weapon. In such cases, the best option is to call the police.
Furthermore, you will note that these are psychological techniques. When dealing with angry and fearful people, these are often necessary:
Know what a tense situation looks like.
In the ideal world, everyone communicates in a respectful, peaceful, and civilized manner. But we are dealing with the real world. Tensions can and do arise between two or more people. When they do, you can expect voices to get louder, rude and sarcastic remarks made, flushed cheeks, sweat to build up on foreheads, and muscles to tense.
Get everyone to relax.
Call in a third person to ask everyone to lower their voices and relax. It can be challenging for those directly involved to do this themselves. The third person must also keep her voice down, look relaxed, and remain non-judgmental. This will set the tone and encourage the others to follow her lead.
Tell a joke.
People don’t tell jokes anymore, but today, we sure could use more of them. A joke helps get people to relax. A smile on the face of one party will lead to smiles all around. But it can be hard to think of a joke in a tense situation. If nothing else, tell the one about the old man and his wife who saw the marriage counselor and how the wife controls her anger.
Separate the parties.
Stepping in and asking to speak to one of the participants privately can help calm the situation and get to the root of the problem. A few minutes apart often helps defuse tense situations.
After Deescalating a Tense Situation
Once things are calmer, what happens next can be more complicated. If the situation arose in a public setting, such as in a store, it would be best to ask one or both parties to peacefully leave.
If this happens in the workplace, supervisors and administrators may need to make tough situations. If the same people have routinely been involved in tense situations – with each other or others in the company – this may call for terminating an employee. This will help ensure the sanity and safety of everyone else working in the company.