We’re living in trying times. It’s as if every time I turn my head, turn on the TV, or turn a corner there’s another conflict. About race, about inequalities, about the concerning state of our earth. And about the more mundane: about who gets to go first, who has the right of way, who’s better than the other. These conflicts, serious or seemingly mundane, are igniting riots, leading to injuries and even deaths, causing wars, and destroying life as we know it. Whether you’re on this side, that side, or no side of any of these conflicts, you’re still part of the problem. We are humanity and we need to work collectively to solve these conflicts. The best approach? Start small. Start with the conflicts in your own backyard, the ones that you find yourself involved in at work, at home, at the grocery store. Wherever you are, here are a few ways to deescalate whatever conflict you may find yourself in and work toward a more peaceful world for all:
This first one sounds simple: just listen. However, it’s not always so easy to do. Oftentimes our own opinions crowd our heads and prevent us from listening to someone else’s views. We may give them the floor or tell them we’re listening, but are we really? Are we thinking about what they’re saying? Or are we just letting them get it all out so we can soon have our turn? If you take the time to really hear someone out, you might actually understand their take on the situation. Or you might learn that you don’t have such different opinions after all.
2) Check yourself.
Zach Galifianakis said it best: check yourself before you wreck yourself. Ah, body language comes into play, once again! People rely significantly on body language to communicate. So, you may be saying, ‘Let’s work this out’, but if you’re pointing fingers at an individual or waving your arms in their face, or upholding an otherwise threatening demeanor, you have no chance of actually deescalating the conflict. You’ll definitely heighten it instead. You need to account not only for your words but your actions, as they will only ignite the fire and lead to even more trouble.
3) Acknowledge and accept the other individual’s emotions.
I am a rather sympathetic individual. My brother and my friends constantly tell me that I’m too nice, or too giving, but I view my sympathy as a gift. So, I have no trouble considering another individual’s feelings, even in conflict. But many others do. This goes hand-in-hand with listening. If you take a second to listen to the other individual, you may learn something about them that explains their role in the conflict. Or maybe you’ll see what emotion is driving their efforts. Take war for example. Each side always thinks their right. But if we took a moment to understand what’s at stake for the opponent, and how we can otherwise resolve the conflict, just maybe we could find a better way. One that doesn’t involve death.
4)Take responsibility for your part.
You know what they say: it takes two to tango. Or fight, or whatever. A conflict is rarely ever entirely one person or one side’s fault. While one may have initiated the dispute, it’s likely that someone from the other side reacted and even made the whole situation worse. So in order to deescalate the conflict, step up and take responsibility for your part in it, don’t blame it all on the other person. Apologize for your contribution. This will definitely earn you some respect and may even open up some doors to sort the situation out calmly and fairly. Worst case scenario, your opponent continues to argue and you walk away knowing you did your best to extinguish the fire.
5) Think about the outcome.
Conflicts often end in guilt, shame, injury, and the promise of another. But they can also end in a resolution, in a handshake. So think about what you want the aftermath to look like. Do you want to leave the situation feeling heated, angry, or uncertain of the future? Do you want to see someone get hurt, maybe even yourself? Consider the repercussions and take the route that results in the best outcome for everybody involved. Choose to shake their hand if the disagreement allows it. Or if it doesn’t, simply walk away and continue to fight the fight in every civil manner you can.