How to develop de-escalation strategies by using ‘their’ words

How to develop de-escalation strategies by using ‘their’ words

You will be familiar with the phrase ‘they speak my language’ and very often we will experience that feeling of being ‘connected’ literally because a person is using our language.

How can we use this as a one of our de-escalation strategies?

We all have language sets, these are the words and phrases that form the vocabulary we use in everyday language. For example, in the U.K we describe the length of tarmac on both sides of the road that we walk on as the pavement, however in the U.S. it would be referred to as the sidewalk. It is clear that if we want to communicate effectively and we were giving directions to an American then using the word sidewalk will have an immediate and clear meaning for that person whereas the word pavement may be misunderstood. 

So how can we add this tool to our de-escalation strategies when we are faced with a hostile customer? 

Each customer will have their own idiosyncrasies in the language set that they use. One way to improve communication is to use their exact words. Notice the difference in the response of the customer in the example below.

Example 1 

Customer: ‘I have come in today to find out what has happened to my Giro?’

Staff: ‘You have come in about your unemployment benefit?’

Customer: ‘No my Giro, it hasn’t been paid!’

Example 2

Customer: ‘I have come in today to find out what has happened to my Giro?’

Staff: ‘You have come in about your Giro?’

Customer: ‘Yeh, that’s right my Giro.’

In the second example the customer responds in a more positive manner when the word Giro is reflected back. In first example the customer could feel as if the staff member had not really listened or that he/she is being officious and bureaucratic. I am sure that this was not the staff member’s intention, but this is a good example of how we can miss the subtle communication enhancers; remember it is the small subtle strategies that make the difference when we are using skills to de-escalate conflict.

Next time that you are dealing with a conflict situation notice the exact language that the hostile person uses and remember to reflect back their exact words. Now hear me clearly, I am not suggesting that you mirror aggressive language – but you can use the persons’ vocabulary set. This approach will communicate at many levels that you are focused on them and their issue, that you understand their point of view and that you are actively listening. It is far more effective to de-escalate conflict, than to have to manage the out-spinning of a fully charged emotional conflict. 

In this article I have focused on a customer facing example so that you can see the principal, of course this strategy will work just as well when you are dealing with friends, family or colleagues.

How can I refine my skills?

Fortunately, we don’t need to be involved in a direct conflict in order to practice our skills. In fact, we can practice these skills during every conversation we have. Just by being more aware of our interactions will help us refine our skills. By using the persons’ language set that we are engaged with you will begin to notice the difference in how the communication flows. This process of refining our skills when we are under less pressure will help develop our ability to use them when managing more difficult situations.

How often should I use their words?

This is a great question. If we become too ‘parrot’ like there is the possibility that the person we are speaking to will begin to notice and that could be detrimental to the de-escalation. It is important that we don’t appear to be manipulating the situation or that we are patronizing the person. It is difficult to come up with a formula as to what is too much or too little. The best strategy is to be sensitive to how the individual responds and to keep the conversation natural. You will be surprised how just a little conscious communication will make a big difference. 

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