[Opinion] Strategic Escalation

Most of the time, in a conflict management scenario, escalation of any kind is viewed as a net negative.

Most trainings—whether corporate, academic, online or in-person—focus on teaching techniques and tactics that will bring the other party from a less defensive emotional position to a more collaborative emotional position.

These are great tactics if each party is emotionally invested in the process and outcome of the conflict, but what happens when the other party is apathetic at best, and disengaged at worst?

Customer center call representatives, from organizations that can’t outsource that service (i.e. local utility companies, local banks/credit unions, bill/debt collectors, etc.), or retail clerks, tend to be emotionally at either one of those two poles: apathetic, or disengaged. Rarely does a employee call a customer’s house, or interact with a customer at a retail store, in a way that reflects emotional engagement and intrinsic care to potentially escalate (even negatively) if the interaction doesn’t go as planned.  And the solution to this issue is not more automation, and less human to human interaction, because escalating with a machine is ineffective, time consuming and pointless.

Strategic escalation is the process of positively escalating the other party to a collaborative emotional position, from a net apathetic one. The skills to do this effectively are at the opposite of the skills we all possess (name-calling, judging, moralizing, blaming, threatening, denial, etc.) that we default too naturally if we believe that an interpersonal interaction isn’t going well—and we feel powerless to make it better.

Escalating an interpersonal interaction toward a positive outcome involves:

  • Complimenting (“You’re doing a good job…”)
  • Thanking (“Thank you for the help you gave me today…”)
  • Calling a person by name (“Cindy, that’s great that you got that for me…”)
  • Taking responsibility for being wrong (“I took the wrong approach to asking for what I wanted…”)
  • Using positive feedback (“I’m going to tell your manager what a great experience this was…”)

We must shift the ingrained, Industrial Revolution thinking that has us believing that such interactions are meaningless, irrelevant and unimportant, because increasingly, they are the only kind of interactions that matter.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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