6 De-Escalation Techniques to Diffuse Conflict

couple after an argument

PeopleImages / Getty Images

Conflict and disagreement are a part of life, albeit often an unpleasant one. Whether caused by a disagreement in values or simple miscommunication, we all encounter conflict at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, when conflict is not addressed productively, it can escalate, sometimes to the point of violence.

Emotions are contagious. When we encounter someone who is experiencing stress, we pick up on their stress. The same is true for other emotions, including anger, which is why we might feed off of someone else’s anger, causing a conflict to escalate further.

In the workplace, unresolved conflict leads to less creativity and productivity, and interpersonal relationship conflict can destroy relationships, including friendships and marriages. It is essential to build and use healthy, appropriate skills to de-escalate conflicts in a healthy way.

Address Conflict As Soon As Possible

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Conflict can grow over time, and you can become resentful of an ongoing issue.

If you have a problem with another person, addressing it as soon as possible can prevent escalation. It can be tempting to ignore a conflict that seems small, but then the issue grows until we can no longer ignore it, which sometimes leads to an explosive confrontation.

Long-term conflicts are more difficult to resolve because of the history and more intense feelings attached. Bring the conflict to the other person’s attention and find a resolution early on to prevent escalation before it begins.

Identify the Goal of De-Escalation

Sometimes we know something is wrong but struggle to articulate exactly what the issue is or our desired outcome. How can you resolve something if you do not know what that looks like?

Understand each person’s perception of the problem and desired resolution beforehand.

It can be helpful to ask yourself, “How will I know that this is resolved?” What change would make things right for you? Before working towards a resolution, each party in the conflict can think about the kind of resolution they need or want and what that would look like.

Do you need to see a specific behavior change? Do you feel wronged and need an apology? Do the parties have different communication styles and need to get on the same page?

Understand each person’s perception of the problem and desired resolution beforehand.

Remain Calm and Regulated

The longer a conflict has gone on, the bigger your feelings about it and the other person are likely to be. While your feelings are valid, they can interfere with your ability to communicate and address the conflict in a productive way.

When addressing a conflict, make sure you are in a calm headspace. This will allow you to engage the other person and make progress towards a resolution. It is possible for big feelings to come up during the conversation, so be aware of this possibility, and use coping skills as needed to regulate yourself.

Sometimes a conflict is complex and needs long-term work in finding a solution. It is OK to take a break if you feel yourself getting worked up.

Practice Active Listening and Take Turns

Often, each person has a different perception of the conflict and what resolution is needed. It can be tempting to cling to our perception of what is going on and not address the other person’s side. However, when both sides dig into their own view of the situation, they are unlikely to make progress toward a resolution.

If you are truly interested in resolving the conflict, practice active listening and open communication with the other person.

Use 'I' Statements

Make sure that both sides have the opportunity to speak their truth, and actively listen when the other person is sharing. When expressing your side of the conflict, using neutral language and “I statements” can reduce the risk of further escalation.

Engage With a Third Party

A neutral third party or mediator can aid in conflict resolution. Since they are not directly involved in the conflict itself, they do not have an emotional investment in the outcome. A mediator can help both parties see an acceptable resolution.

If your conflict is in a relationship, a mental health professional may be able to provide resolution support through couples therapy. If your conflict is with a colleague, your workplace may employ trained mediators to help you come to an appropriate resolution.


As noted above, it is tempting to get caught up in your perception of a conflict and vision of an appropriate resolution, forgetting that there is another side to the story.

The other party has its own agenda and priorities for the outcome as well. Recognize your values as well as what you might be able to bend in order to come to a solution that is mutually agreeable.

The other party’s needs might align more closely with yours than you think. When you are open to compromise, you can more easily find an appropriate resolution to your conflict.

Resources That Can Help You Deal With Conflict

Sometimes, you might need outside help to manage or de-escalate a conflict. Even if you take steps to diffuse the situation, the other party might not be receptive or may choose to continue to escalate regardless of your efforts.

Depending on the nature of the conflict, you might benefit from additional support:

  • Workplace conflict: Consult your job’s human resources department. They can intervene and help you and the other party work through the conflict in a healthy environment.
  • Conflict with your partner: If you and your partner are struggling with conflict, a couples therapist can help you work through it.
  • Divorce: Sometimes, the safest or healthiest option in a marriage is to end the relationship. Professional mediators can help work through conflicts impeding a divorce proceeding.
  • Family conflict: If members of your family are struggling with conflict, a marriage and family therapist or another qualified mental health professional can help you work through and build appropriate communication skills.
  • Conflict among friends: Even the best of friends disagree sometimes. Involving a neutral third party can help you work through the disagreement and communicate effectively.

Remember that you can only control your response to the conflict and not the other person’s, but you can use these tips to make de-escalation as painless as possible.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US Department of Justice. The Interpersonal Conflict and Resolution (iCOR) Study.

  2. Engert V, Plessow F, Miller R, Kirschbaum C, Singer T. Cortisol increase in empathic stress is modulated by emotional closeness and observation modalityPsychoneuroendocrinology. 2014;45:192-201.

  3. De Clercq D, Belausteguigoitia I. The links among interpersonal conflict, personal and contextual resources, and creative behaviourCan J Adm Sci. 2021;38(2):135-149.

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.