gunHolster_157188905Conflict is inevitable, and can occur in many forms. In essence, conflict occurs any time there is a trial of strength between two opposing parties and principles. This can be quite common in the security environment and unfortunately, a lot of today’s industry participants do not have a healthy attitude toward conflict and as such, are lacking some of the tools necessary for de-escalating conflict and working towards negotiation of more positive outcomes.

Conflict usually occurs anytime two people do not agree. This disagreement can lead to frustration which can then develop rapidly into anger and finally, if not treated, can degenerate to aggression and violence and other forms of irrational behaviour.

This is not a pre-set outcome, however, and the outcome of conflict can vary greatly based upon the role each participant plays in the conflict. This is why it is important to understand the principles of non violent conflict resolution as well as the importance of maintaining one’s focus on achieving a specific outcome from the conflict.

Whether you are dealing with conflict in a security environment or any other situation, it is important to remember first and foremost that, you are in charge of how you react. Your attitude must remain positive at all times while ensuring that you are giving the conflict your full attention. Every time you communicate, either verbally or non-verbally through body language, your attitude is apparent and it is important to present a professional, unbiased and positive attitude at all times. Remember, the aim here is to redirect the other persons behaviour and generate voluntary compliance using verbal techniques.

Aggression arising from frustration is one of the prime triggers of conflict and in a security environment, this can occur anytime someone wants something they cannot have (entry into the premises, one more drink and so on). Breakdowns in communication, a lack of adequate communication skills and even drugs or alcohol can all be contributing factors to the development of conflict. Regardless of the contributing factors, the intended goal should remain constant, mitigate the associated risks and de-escalate the conflict whilst staying outcome focussed.

There are a multitude of factors involved in identifying, de-escalating and managing conflict situations. The tactics one must employ when resolving a conflict sometimes need to be processed and implemented within an extremely short period of time. I believe one of the best and simplest overviews of the process is Col John Boyd’s “The OODA Loop” which was developed during the Korean War.

In a very brief summary, the OODA loop stands for “Observe, Orientation, Decision and Action”. A security operative needs to firstly Observe all aspects of the conflict situation (situation awareness) and take into account the totality of the situation. Secondly, Orientate the information that has been gathered about the conflict and compare it to their training, their experiences and their knowledge. Thirdly, Decide on the best course of action (based on matching the first two steps) and lastly put the Action into motion. No matter what that action may be (disengage and call for additional resources, make an initial approach and so on) there will be a resultant reaction or change in circumstances and then the loop begins again.

It is important to note that this ‘OODA loop’ process can occur in a split second. Security operatives, in entertainment environments especially, are potentially dealing with people who are affected by drugs and/or alcohol and, they have to make rapid decisions in high stress and volatile environments. This combination of circumstances are all factors in the conflict and need to be taken into account whilst maintaining a calm, professional and logical approach. The same responses can occur in loss prevention situations. Operatives may find themselves interviewing people who have previous arrests for shoplifting offences resulting in highly aggressive reactions arising from a fear of arrest and possible incarceration.

It is my personal belief that effective verbal de-escalation techniques are a true art form. To be able to verbally de-escalate conflicts takes patience, tact and, to be blunt, the ability to control one’s own pride and ego. A key aspect of minimising any security related conflict is to understand it is not personal. In security industry related conflict, in most cases, people are purely venting at the authority you represent, not at you personally. It is the authority you represent that is not allowing that person entry into a venue or not allowing that person one last drink or arresting a person for shoplifting. Once you realise that the conflict is not personally aimed at you, it becomes much easier to handle conflict with empathy, impartiality and focus. Furthermore, by removing the personal element from the equation, it becomes easier to be mindful of the fact that, you are in charge of how you react”. (Yes, I have said that twice…. It’s that important!)

To help staff work towards more effective conflict de-escalation and resolution, I have outlined below a few basic steps that can be followed:

  • Obtain the name of the person with who you are speaking: People respond favourably to their own name. It also makes the conversation more personal. Ask for the persons name early in the piece and use it throughout conversation.
  • Use Active Listening: Clarifying, paraphrasing and open-ended questions all help to ensure that the person is aware you have understood their frustrations completely. This helps to lower frustration levels as they feel they have “got it off their chest”. On a subconscious level, repeating a person’s own words back to them clearly shows your comprehension of their points on the most basic of levels.
  • Slow down and suspend judgement: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict situations. Even if you do not agree with the person’s position, expressing an understanding why that person feels a particular way will help resolve the conflict. Once again, ensure you are giving the conflict your full attention. Show respect for the other person’s opinions and feelings.
  • Get them to say yes: It is very hard for someone to stay angry towards you if they are agreeing with you. This may sound ridiculous….How do we achieve this? Using clarifying questions and providing summaries during the conversation all help to confirm you have understood their point. When you clarify using a statement such as, “So you are feeling frustrated because of XYZ, is that right?”, you are creating a situation where the other person must respond with a “Yes”, and the more often we can get the other person to say yes, the quicker the conflict will deescalate. This is an extremely successful and useful technique.
  • Don’t use clichés: The worst of these being “Calm Down”. If you have ever said those words during a verbal conflict, you will realise the normal response is “I AM CALM” at the top of their voice and most likely coupled with animated hand gestures as well. It can also detect presence of even best rimfire scopes available.
  • Show empathy: The old saying, “Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything” is particularly true of conflict resolution. As security industry professionals, we need to show compassion and empathy and give the conflict our full attention. Don’t make rash judgements and work through the process.
  • Consistency in Courtesy: This is a personal favourite of mine. The person you are dealing with at 10 o’clock at night deserves the same level of respect, courtesy and patience as the person you are dealing with at 2pm. They don’t know it is your third argument with someone today or that they are the 19th person refused entry tonight and as such, they deserve the same high level of service and professionalism as the first person you spoke to. Remember that in the security industry, in a lot of cases, we are the first and last impression someone gets of our client’s business (be it retail, licensed premises or corporate host/concierge type roles) and as such, we need to maintain that position of positive brand ambassador and consummate professional.

There are many physical aspects to be mindful of in conflict situations. It is important to always be mindful of bigger picture aspects of conflict including situational and environmental awareness, right through to simple things like our stance and positioning. Obviously, it is difficult to provide an overview of effective conflict resolution in a single short article. And while I intend to provide further details in future articles, I would like to finish by pointing out the importance of maintaining a constant awareness of the signs and triggers of an escalating conflict such as:

  • A person clenching his or her fists or tightening and untightening their jaw.
  • A sudden change in body language or tone used during a conversation.
  • The person starts pacing or fidgeting.
  • A change in type of eye contact (psychological intimidation).
  • The “Rooster Stance” – chest protruding out more and arms more away from the body.

Conflict is part of everyday life (both work and personal) and as security professionals, verbal de-escalation tools are important skills to posses and as such, need to be honed and practised regularly if they are to become part of our natural response to conflict situations. Training and ingraining these techniques to the point where they become second nature allows a security operative to focus more on the fluid and dynamic changing aspects of conflict such as the signs and triggers mentioned above. This also enables a security operative to develop a greater awareness of other situational factors. The combination of all these factors will provide the greatest chance of minimising and resolving conflict in the safest and most positive way possible.

Scott Taylor
Scott Taylor CPP is Managing Director of Praesidium Group and CEO of International Security Training Academy. He has over 24 years experience in the security services industry. It would be hard to find a better credentialed security specialist in Australia. Scott is a frequent media commentator and also Expert Witness when security related issues surface in the public arena. For more information, please contact him on 0416 167 761.