4 Tips for De-Escalating Conflict in the Workplace


If you work in the multifamily industry, chances are good you have encountered someone – a resident, co-worker or even a boss who is agitated and headed towards conflict. When you’ve found yourself in such a situation, how often has using the phrase “calm down” helped to diffuse the situation? Although it is likely rarely effective, many of us continue using this approach because we may not be aware of a more productive approach. To begin, here are some helpful do’s and don’ts you can follow for de-escalating conflict in the workplace:

  • DO validate the person’s feelings. – DON’T say “calm down”.
  • DO work to see their point of view. – DON’T be dismissive.
  • DO offer suggestions as choices. – DON’T be controlling.
  • DO pay attention to the signs. – DON’T ignore hot button issues.
  • DO practice self-regulation techniques. – DON’T feed the frenzy.
  • DO collaborate to find a solution. – DON’T “tell ‘em how it is”.
  • DO listen to understand. – DON’T try to make a point.

Your role within the industry will affect the type of conflict you typically encounter in the course of your work day, but the following steps you can take to help you keep your cool will apply across the board. Here are 4 tips for de-escalating conflict in the workplace:

1. Anticipation – When we are able to see the conflict coming, often we can avoid it entirely. The first step in anticipation is taking note of the more common issues that cause conflict such as:

  • Maintenance issues
  • Rent
  • Failure to follow through

In these cases, we have an opportunity to reach out to the resident before they reach out to us. This allows us to work to calm the conflict before it has a chance to escalate. Another tip for de-escalating conflict is to pay attention to physical expressions of tension including:

  • Raised shoulders
  • Clenched fists
  • Clenched jaw
  • Furrowed brow
  • Pacing
  • Fidgeting

Recognizing these signs will help gauge the temperature of the interaction and let you know when you may be heading towards a problem. This will allow you to adjust your reactions to be soothing rather than further antagonizing and help with de-escalating conflict. Other clues you can look out for are sudden changes in:

  • Tone of voice
  • Eye Contact
  • Physical stance

2. Self-Regulation – When you are in the midst of a conflict, make it your primary goal to remain professional and regulate your own response, even if the other person is out of control. Self-regulation isn’t something we’re all necessarily good at, but with practice we can all improve! Successful self-regulation is achieved with the following tools:

  • Flexibility – We need to be flexible in every encounter to best respond to that specific situation.
  • Inhibition/Restraint – We need to be able to show restraint in the face of agitation.
  • Sustainability – We need to sustain our professionalism throughout the interaction.
  • Better Planning and Organizing – Think ahead about how you will handle an upset person/interaction.
  • Emotional Control – Calm is contagious! If you can control your emotional response and model calm behavior, it will help the other person to regulate as well.

3. De-escalation – In de-escalating conflict in the workplace, you can follow the advice of Vanilla Ice and:

  • Stop – When you encounter someone who is heated and looking for conflict, first stop and assess your situation. Make sure neither of you are cornered and take a moment to step away to pause the escalation. A great way to do this is to say, “Let me go grab your file.” This gives a moment for each of you to collect yourselves. Another helpful tip is to invite the person to have a seat.
  • Collaborate – Consider a conflict as a hostage situation where you must negotiate to release the solution. Take the time to discuss and work with the person to arrive at a resolution and be sure to address them by name. De-escalating conflict requires working to determine the real root issue.
  • Listen – You must listen with empathy instead of listening to respond. The more you can get the other person to talk, the more they will feel heard and begin to calm down.
  • Take Action – So often, when someone is frustrated, it is because someone has failed to take action. Be sure to let them know what action you intend to take and follow through.

4. Implementation – Once you’ve calmed the other person enough to get them to disclose the issues they’re really bothered by and you’ve collaborated to determine a solution, you must follow through and implement what you’ve promised.

Try these 4 tips for de-escalating conflict in the workplace the next time tensions start to rise.

Presented by:

Katie Rigsby

Katie Rigsby, CAPS

Multifamily Consultant, Speaker, Facilitator, Inspiration Specialist
Katie Rigsby Inspires

About Ellis

Since 1984, Ellis Partners in Management Solutions has specialized exclusively in helping our multifamily clients measure and improve the customer experience by teaming with customers to develop professional skills and behaviors in each team member. We evaluate customer service and performance of onsite leasing professionals through comprehensive mystery shopping reports, our multiple touchpoint resident survey program, and training. Our turn-key integrated customer experience program, backed by outstanding customer service, sophisticated technology, and ethical business practices, has made Ellis one of the multifamily industry’s most respected and sought-after providers of training and consulting services.