Conflict today is inevitable and can occur in many forms and places. In essence, conflict occurs any time there is a show of strength between two opposing parties or principles. This can be quite common in the security environment and unfortunately, a lot of today’s industry principals do not have a healthy attitude toward conflict and therefore, lack skill and behaviour necessary for de-escalation of conflict.
Conflict occurs when two people do not agree. This disagreement leads to frustration which then grows rapidly into anger and finally, if not treated, can degenerate to aggression and violence and other forms of inappropriate behaviour.
This is not a pre-ordained outcome, however, and the outcome of conflict can vary based on the role each participant plays in the conflict as it unfolds. This is why it is important to understand the principles of nonviolent conflict resolution.
If you are dealing with conflict in a security environment or any other stage, it is important to remember first and foremost that you are in charge of how you react. Your attitude must stay positive while ensuring that you are giving full attention to the conflict. Every time you communicate, either verbally or nonverbally, your attitude is visible and it is important to present a calm, professional, unbiased and positive attitude. The purpose is to mould the other person's behaviour and generate voluntary compliance using a set of verbal techniques.
Aggression stemming 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 building, one more drink and so on). Breakdowns in communication, absence of adequate communication skills and even drugs or alcohol can all contribute to conflict. Regardless of the contributing factors, the intended goal should remain constant, de-escalate the conflict whilst staying focussed on a compliant outcome.
There are a host of factors involved in identifying, de-escalating and managing conflicts. The tactics one must use when resolving a conflict sometimes need to be processed and implemented within an extremely short time. 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 brief, the OODA loop stands for “Observe, Orientation, Decision and Action”. A security guard needs to firstly Observe all aspects of the conflict situation (situation awareness) and take into account the entire situation and its contributing components. Secondly, Orientate the information that has been processed about the conflict and compare it to their training, their experiences and their knowledge. Third, 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 approach and so on) there will be a resultant reaction or change in circumstances and then the loop starts again.
It is important to understand that this ‘OODA loop’ can occur in a split second. Security guards, in entertainment environments especially, are potentially dealing with people who are affected by drugs and/or alcohol and they have to make rapid decisions under high stress and volatile situations. This combination of circumstances are all factors in the conflict and need to be taken into account whilst maintaining a calm, professional and logical front. Identical responses can occur in loss prevention situations. Guards 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.
Effective verbal de-escalation techniques are a true art. To be able to verbally de-escalate conflicts takes patience, tact and the ability to control one’s own pride and ego. The key aspect of suppressing any security related conflict is to understand it is not personal. In security related conflict, in a majority of 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. Once you understand 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”.
To help guards work towards more effective conflict de-escalation and resolution, a few basic steps have been outlined below which can be followed:
There are many physical aspects to be mindful of in conflict situations. It is important to always be mindful of the bigger picture of conflict including situational and environmental awareness. 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:
Conflict is part of everyday life and as security guards, verbal de-escalation tools are important skills to possess and as such, need to be fine tuned and practised daily if they are to become part of our natural response to conflicts. Training and ingraining these techniques to the point where they become second nature allows a security guard 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 guard 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.