Monday, October 11, 2010

How to De-Escalate Conflict 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 that person is using our language. How can we use this in practice to deescalate conflict? We all have a preference for the vocabulary we use in every day 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 visitor then using the word sidewalk will have an immediate and clear meaning for the visitor whereas pavement may be misunderstood.
So how does this help us deal 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.

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: ‘Yer, that’s right my Giro.’

In this 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.

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 will communicate at many levels that your attention is focused on 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 situation.
In this article I have focussed 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.