Are you a de-escalator?

long escalator with man walking off bottom

Imagine someone on your team sends a mass email to you and the rest of the team that seems to challenge you or your ideas.  What’s your response?

Or, imagine that your four year old has disobeyed you for the 34th time since lunch. They’re pushing all the right buttons, and you feel like you are going to explode. What’s your response?

Or finally, imagine that your significant other makes comment about a job you said you were going to do around the house, but you just have not gotten around to it yet. Their comment is said with kind words, but it feels passive aggressive, like they’re not saying what is really on their mind. What’s your response?

I have been thinking a lot lately about conflict, and how it often escalates because of the way people respond. Before commenting further, however, let me clarify that conflict is not a naughty word. In work, parenting, and marriage, conflict is inevitable. We should, therefore, embrace it by having real one-on-one conversations with those we have conflict with. Having said that, and the point of today’s post, is there are things we can do to de-escalate conflict.


Instead of “replying all” to the threatening email, you have a one-on-one discussion about the issue with the person that sent it. In doing so, you give voice to their perspective, and even appreciate some of the good points they made. But, you also share your perspective, and do so in a way that is strong, kind, and not defensive.

If done correctly, the two of you have de-escalated the situation. The benefit for your co-workers copied is that they don’t have to receive the email barrage of the two of you going back and forth, nor do they have to spend any more mental energy worrying about the conflict.

The same can be said about the four year old and the spouse. Not that I would know on either front (I wish!), but since I have a four year old, I have to realize that every time I give in to my anger, and thus escalate the situation, I am in reality putting more stress on the entire household. And with my wife, we created a routine early in our marriage to force us to resolve the daily conflicts that arise before they escalate out of control. We talk and pray together each night (and it is really hard to pray with someone that you have unresolved conflict with!). So if the situation above arose, we know we don’t have to react immediately in anger—we have dedicated space and time to talk about it in the flow of our daily lives as a married couple.

The next time a scenario pops up, at work or at home, the question I challenge you to ask yourself is this:

Are you a de-escalator?

If so, act accordingly.

And, on another note, as a leader, identify the de-escalators within your organization.  I like promoting these people because it makes my life–and the life of the organization—better!