6 Ways to De-Escalate a Heated Argument

Before you do irrevocable damage, de-escalate.

Posted Jan 25, 2021

Alex Green/Pexels
Escalate can derail important conversations
Source: Alex Green/Pexels

Sometimes conversations can get out of hand—emotions run high, hurtful words are used, past mistakes brought up. You can enter into a conversation with the best of intentions and find yourself in a destructive conflict.

However, it's never too late to turn a conflict around. Conflict is an aspect of every healthy relationship and organization. It's unavoidable, but when done right, can lead to growth, and to change that wouldn't be possible without it. If you find yourself in a heated argument, keep these 6 ideas in mind. They could help you de-escalate the situation, and get back on track:

  1. Regulate your own emotions. Make sure you approach the other person in a calm manner. Take a moment to collect yourself, take a deep breath, tell yourself that you can do this, then engage. Don’t get caught in the escalation and respond when heated or caught up in the intensity.
  2. Acknowledge the feelings of the other person. Don’t focus on if the other person is right or wrong. Just listen and acknowledge their feelings. Validate what they are saying so that they feel heard and understood.
  3. Don’t try to fix the situation or problem-solve. When people are escalated, they are not cognitively able to think critically. If you shift into problem-solver mode, this will not be a helpful match to the situation and could exacerbate the intensity.
  4. Stay present; don’t remove yourself from the situation unless you need to. Walking away may make the other person feel dismissed or disrespected, which could increase the escalation. Only walk away if you are in physical danger and you have a clear exit strategy. Otherwise, stay present, let the other person know you are there for them, regulate your emotions, and validate their feelings.
  5. Model appropriate emotional regulation and self-control. When the escalated person sees you behaving calmly and compassionately, that influences them to do the same. The escalated person will follow your lead.
  6. Once the situation is less escalated, then redirect and problem-solve. Redirecting or problem-solving may involve identifying what led up to the point of escalation, clarifying miscommunication or misunderstood intentions, brainstorming solutions, weighing pros and cons, creating a plan of action to correct the problem, and then taking action.

Ideally, these strategies would not be necessary because you and your conversation partner would communicate in a respectful way that removes any possibility of escalation happening—but people are messy, and even more so is communication. Thus, it's always a good idea to have ideas for de-escalation in mind, just in case you need them. 

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