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Conflict Resolution Tips to Deal with Aggressive Behaviour in the Workplace

19 October 2018
 October 19, 2018

Inspired by Conflict Resolution Day which falls this week, we take a look at how de-escalation techniques can be used to diffuse potentially threatening situations and what to remember should you find yourself in these circumstances.

Observed in October each year, Conflict Resolution Day is a global event which aims to promote the concept of peaceful resolution and non-violent methods people can use to settle disagreements and conflict.

These techniques are life skills that can be applied in many different scenarios. However they’re especially useful when dealing with aggressive behaviour in the workplace; from an aggrieved customer for instance.

Conflict resolution strategies

There are five main ways that a conflict can be resolved, it’s important to consider which outcome would be most appropriate given the situation:

  • Competing – one person ‘wins’ the argument.
  • Collaboration – where both parties find a solution that is agreeable to all.
  • Compromise – both parties give some ground and find a solution that meets halfway.
  • Withdrawing – avoiding the conflict, either completely or temporarily.
  • Smoothing – when situation is calmed down, although both parties still disagree.

Dealing with Aggressive Behaviour

Step by step guide: How to resolve conflict

There are some things you can do to neutralise problem situations. A way to make it more likely to bring them to a successful conclusion. If possible, it’s best to try and deal with a conflict early on, to avoid it escalating and becoming violent.

  • Start off by explaining that you want to help resolve the issues.
  • If the other party is a stranger, make a personal connection by simply asking their name. This can often take the heat out of a situation.
  • Listen carefully to the person without making a judgement. Ask constructive questions to gain as much information as possible.
  • Identify the cause of the problem. Sometimes this may be quite different from what the other party perceives it to be.
  • Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Empathising is important to maintain their self-esteem and show you know how they feel.
  • State the facts clearly. Not only does this help clarify your own understanding but shows empathy if you try and do this from the other person’s point of view. Use statements like “I see…” and “I understand that…”
  • Find common ground if possible. It’s harder to be upset if someone is agreeing with what you’re saying.
  • Give the other person a choice. This makes them have to think which can temporarily calm them down.
  • Look for solutions. If you can’t resolve everything immediately, try and find something you can do straight away, or put a clear plan of action in place for the next steps that need to happen.
  • Shift the conversation to the future. Say things like “we will…” to demonstrate that you are involving the other party in resolving the issue.

Signs Aggression Turns into Violence

Things to remember when dealing with aggressive behaviour

  • Be positive in the way you handle the situation.
  • Stay calm yourself. Don’t appear scared or respond aggressively. This will only escalate matters.
  • Focus on the issues and not the person. When someone feels wronged it’s easy for them to take things personally. Aim to depersonalise things so they realise that they are angry at the situation and not you. For this reason also remember that you shouldn’t react to any insults from the other party.
  • Maintain non-aggressive body language. People pick up on many subtle non-verbal cues so try to appear as non-threatening as possible. Position yourself at the same eye-level, maintain limited eye contact and keep your hands in front of body, in open and relaxed position. Don’t shrug or point your fingers and avoid excessive gesturing or pacing.
  • Control your tone of voice. Keep it low, speak in an assertive manner and be firm but fair
  • Give them space. This appears less intimidating and is important for your own safety in case things turn violent.

Protecting yourself

  • MicroSOS in someone's hand showing how small it isBe aware of what’s around you. For example, look out for objects e.g. chairs that could be used as a weapon or other people that could become involved. Check where the exits are. Is there a clear path to escape if you have to?
  • Have a plan to protect yourself and get out of the situation before things escalate. Look out for warning signs of violent behaviour.
  • Be mindful of your own safety. If de-escalation isn’t working then stop and withdraw if need be. Your safety is always the most important thing.
  • If you know in advance that you’re likely to encounter aggressive behaviour in your job role, then be prepared. Getting help can be tricky, but monitored personal alarms can provide a discreet means of calling for assistance. Some such as Skyguard’s MicroSOS (pictured) can even record audio which could be used as evidence if necessary.

Signs to look for that a situation may become violent

Make sure you know and can spot the following signs:

  • Clenched fists or tightening and untightening of the jaw.
  • Sudden change in body language or tone in a conversation.
  • Pacing or fidgeting, over emphasised gesturing.
  • ‘Rooster stance’ with the person’s chest protruding out more than usual and their arms away from the body.
  • Disruptive behaviours e.g. yelling, refusing to follow instructions etc.