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4 Steps to De-escalate an Escalation


"Self-centered negative emotions and egoic behavior are like poison in a well. If they are not transformed, contained, or eliminated, they’ll contaminate the purest water.”
- Sheryl Kline

Do you want the good news or bad news first?

Let’s go with the bad and get it over with!

You may have a counterpart that’s a challenging personality type. Unless he is willing to do the work (ie: with a licensed therapist, NLP practitioner, or other licensed professional), he is not likely to change. Cognitive processing and behavior are strongly influenced from long ago, likely in childhood, and how we are treated by influential people in our life.

The good news…

You can follow a proven process to lower a colleague’s (or a family member’s) emotional state, by making him feel heard, cared for, and in control. This in turn puts you in a position to de-escalate a conversation, make it less emotionally charged, and for you to take your power back to influence the conversation. The result? You and your counterpart can get back to making progress and being productive.

As a reminder, last time we spoke about how to mentally and strategically prepare to de-escalate a crucial conversation. The following is how to manage an escalation when you find yourself in the eye of the storm or when you’re called in to de-escalate for someone else.

Before we get started, a gentle reminder that, under no circumstances, will you need to put up with abusive behavior/communications. It’s important to know when and how to exit this type of conversation that takes a turn for the worse. I’ll go over how to do that in future content.

For now, here’s a 4-step process and acronym to de-escalate a conversation with an egoic personality type that becomes emotional.

When you feel like clobbering a counterpart on the head, you can!:) That is, you can with your mindset and your words. Here’s how to BAMM!

Be empathetic.
Have compassion for your counterpart and be empathetic to why he/she may feel/be acting a certain way. This is NOT for him/her per se. It’s so your tone communicates that you care and that he/she is heard. It also checks the box for one of the most important hierarchy of needs, safety. Before creating safety and visibility for your emotional counterpart, the conversation has nowhere to go but south.

Ask about the emotion or frustration.
Seems counterintuitive, right? Who wants to unleash more emotion?! You should, and here’s why. We make assumptions and judgments about why others get emotional or upset when in fact we really don’t know. Influence is about gathering information that you can then use later. Even if you’re wrong, you’ll likely learn something valuable. Also, according to the research, it typically takes 15 minutes for most people to run out of steam when they’re upset. So, once you acknowledge what you think they might be thinking/feeling (for example, ‘It seems like not having the resources to complete your request is frustrating.’) and they start talking, you can say ‘I’m sorry this is upsetting. Can you tell me more?’ They should eventually run out of steam, realize what they are saying is unfounded, or give you an important piece of information. Either way, they’ll likely begin to de-escalate the conversation on their own.

Move to the next best step of integrity.
These personality types love to be in control. Sound familiar? The next best step is to make them feel as if they are in control. Before you can do this effectively, be sure to know what your ideal outcome is, and what’s important to them. Now you can craft a question to get the conversation moving forward in the direction you want while they think it’s their idea. Why does this work? According to Harvard brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, it takes about ninety seconds for anger to dissipate. Make an inquiry and let ’er rip!

For example, a colleague is making unreasonable demands on you/your team and threatens to go above your head to get his way. You want to fulfill what you can with excellence and deal directly with this colleague without him/her going to your boss. You might say: ‘It seems like it’s frustrating that we do not have the headcount/resources to fulfill what you’re asking for.’ They’ll likely elaborate and give you valuable information that you were not aware of.

You can then use that information to get the conversation moving forward by asking the next best step of integrity. This gives them the illusion of control. Just make sure your questions are framed in a way to get your desired outcome. For example, ‘Would our next best step of integrity be to execute phase one with excellence by xxx date and regroup on our own on xxx date rather than unnecessarily involve (boss) prematurely?’ You’re the guide, but they feel in charge.

Motivate by making them feel good about progress.
It’s not just self-centered egoic types that like to feel good about a decision or a concession. In order to encourage even more progress and keep the crescendo of emotions going in the right direction, be sure to acknowledge ‘their idea’ and encourage them with a ‘what else’ question. For example, ‘You’re absolutely right that with hard deadlines for deliverables and not involving (boss) prematurely is a solid plan because we’ll be seen as autonomous and free him/her up to focus on xxx.’ ‘You’ll also get what you need on time for phase one.’ ‘What else could keep us autonomous while pushing this project forward?’

BAMM! Hopefully you will not find yourself in this type of situation with this type of counterpart or leader very often. When you do you’ll be ready!

Watch my video for additional suggestions on how to BAMM!

...or listen to the Podcast here:


Cheering you on always,


P.s. If you’d like to gain clarity on ‘what’s next’ and get a plan in place, build confidence and emotional agility to see it through, or become more influential in gaining buy-in, I’d love to help! Schedule your get acquainted call, here.


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