One of the core issues in conflict resolution and de-escalation is that you have to de-escalate yourself first. Unless you can bring your rational functions on line, any skill you have developed in de-escalating others will be useless. The skill of de-escalating yourself, like any skill, requires practice. The problem we encounter here is that this sort of practice is best done in the environment that requires the skill you are practicing; it’s akin to trying to learn the material during the test.
Given the potential consequences for failure, this can make finding places to develop skill at de-escalating yourself a dicey prospect at best. This is particularly problematic if you’re seeking out these opportunities intentionally; it turns out that employers, co-workers and employees, friends and family, aren’t always excited to be pulled into social and emotional conflict purely so that you could “get some reps in.” Unless, of course, you have a very particular group of friends, which is a different matter entirely.
Fortunately for us, we live in a world with a nearly perfect environment in which we can routinely practice, relatively free of consequence- the internet. Here is a game I like to play to practice personal de-escalation without much, if any, real risk. Feel free to play along.
Next time you’re in an impassioned debate online, when there’s someone who’s COMPLETELY wrong on the other side of the debate, and you’ve got a good boil going, walk away.
It has to be a debate you’re invested in, on a topic that you really care about. If you don’t have any skin in the game, it’s easy to leave, and you won’t get anything out of it. Make sure it’s a discussion you *really* want to win. The reward will be directly proportional to the ante.
Don’t tell them you’re leaving. Don’t make any parting comment, or any attempt to save face or get in the last word. Just go radio dark.
Don’t go back and look at how the discussion is going without you. See if you can avoid “checking in” altogether. Make a clean break.
This is the fun part of the game: notice how it makes you feel. Notice your impulses, justifications, and how you rationalize them.
Is there a narrative you create to address any feelings about this you might have? What parts of your brain light up, and how do you deal with that? If you find yourself coming up with strategies to make it easier, can you play without them? Can you just watch the process happen internally without needing to address it?
If played honestly, I think this can help those of us who tell ourselves that we would never get caught up in this sort of nonsense, that we’re not subject to the same impulses as everyone else (those of us who are special snowflakes). If you play with a topic you actually care about, it’s a safe environment to watch your own processes run.
This seems particularly useful if you’re the sort of person who avoids escalation and monkey-dance games primarily by not caring about the people or topics involved. For those of us who are inclined in that direction, the monkey gets triggered infrequently, but that means we may actually have less practice addressing it when it does. If you’ve convinced yourself you’re not subject to a particular weakness, you’ll have a much harder time building the skillset necessary to navigate those waters if (or more likely, when) you find yourself in them.