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No one wins when emotions rise. This holds true in law enforcement as much as it does in work environments, public interactions, or anywhere else conflicts and tension can arise. Rather than raise tensions, then, the key is to bring emotions back to a place where real communication can take place.

“It's all about the skills supporting the de-escalation process," says Steven Poplawski, founder and head trainer of Step Training Inc. "It's a complicated term, but in our courses, we boil it down to reducing tension. The goal is to achieve common ground where acceptance and compliance can occur.”

“If you can de-escalate things effectively,” he continues, “then everyone will be in the right frame of mind to solve the issue at hand.”

Poplawski is no stranger to tense situations. Over the years, he has navigated all manner of conflicts through his roles as a police officer, martial arts student and instructor, Ontario-certified Use of Force Trainer, and veteran law enforcement instructor.

Today, Poplawski uses his decades of "boots on the ground" experience and insights to deliver evidence-based training to law enforcement, municipal officers, university students and security professionals in the areas of de-escalation, communication, validation, and other law enforcement related skills.

“Each conflict situation is also unique, but the common denominator for successful conflict management is keeping a level head and staying professional," Poplawski explains. "When someone is venting, they're not actually communicating. They are displaying triggered emotions because they feel they are not getting what they need. Therefore, the point of de-escalation is to bring them out of this charged, emotional state and get them to a point where they're listening, compromising, and willing to work it out."

Cooler heads

Conflicts can arise for many reasons, be it during tense officer interactions, co-worker disputes, or heated customer exchanges. And while it may be tempting to feed the flames with sarcasm and push back, meaningful outcomes require a softer touch. It is about how you can influence desired outcomes.

“We want to bring these situations down, not up,” says Poplawski. “Otherwise, what you get is a-closed loop emotional environment where emotionally triggered individuals are stuck on certain arguments and are unwilling to move.”

For Poplawski, de-escalating these situations means using techniques to validate, effectively communicate, and listen to steer the conversation to a more positive place. It also means employing tactics that help all parties see the bigger picture.

“One of the biggest problems we have with communication is that we listen to respond instead of listening to understand," he adds. "If you can learn the skills to bring the conversation back to the point of real communication, the outcome will be better for everyone."

Calm under pressure

It is possible for heated arguments to turn into violent situations. Herein, learning and practicing de-escalation techniques can go a long way towards creating safer work environments.

“If you're in a constant state of escalation with people, you're not going to last long in your job, whether that as an officer on the street or an employee in an office. That prolonged stress is going to impact your long-term health, and you'll have less and less energy to deal with tough situations.”

There are proven strategies for de-escalating a situation. Like any vital skill, however, effective conflict management takes consistent, detailed practice.

“You're not going to wake up one day and know how to handle conflict effectively," notes Poplawski. "Like any skill, you need to work on it. You need to learn the steps, practice the techniques, and get used to applying them in under a variety of day-to-day interactions."

It is going to take training and a consistent effort, he adds, “But when you can effectively de-escalate a conflict, everyone wins.”

Learn more about Step Training Inc. courses for law enforcement, municipal staff and security professionals. Visit www.steptraininginc.com, email info@steptraininginc.com, or call 1-647-402-2027

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