De-escalation in hostile environments: 7 ways overseas workers can sidestep conflict

We all know the score: a tense encounter, raised voices and sudden aggression - all too often a minor disagreement can spiral out of control if not dealt with quickly.

For overseas employees working in hostile environments, however, this situation can present a serious threat to safety.

Picture the scene: a routine taxi ride across town. A dispute with the driver over the bill. He pulls over and gets out of the cab. Suddenly, onlookers have gathered round. You don’t understand what they are saying but they look angry.

Adequately dealing with a situation like this can be a daunting task. Using the skills of de-escalation - essentially, preventing a verbal dispute from turning violent - may be your best bet to escape unharmed.

Seven core principles that may help you de-escalate a situation

Take off those sunglasses

The eyes are the window to the soul, they say, but if yours are concealed by mirror-like aviators, it won’t help the situation. Ditch the shades and show that you’re a human too.

Undivided attention

You may be surrounded by an angry mob, but is the aggression primarily coming from one individual? Assess the situation to see who seems to be in charge. Focus your attention on them in order to placate the group.

Body language

A natural tendency to ‘mirror’ others’ physical behaviour gives you the opportunity to set the mood. Make sure you’re not striking a ‘threatening’ pose (fists clenched, brow furrowed, feet planted far apart). Instead, show concern and empathy through ‘open’ body language.

Use peacemakers

Often local members of the community can hold sway over the behaviour of others. If possible, identify a more senior or respected individual who appears calm and appeal to them to help resolve the issue.

Don’t condescend

If alcohol is involved, it can be tempting to presume that your aggressor is unable to pick up on subtle mannerisms. This is unwise. Drunk people can still perceive smirks, eye-rolls and weary eyebrow raises. Respond to them in the same way you would a sober person.

Leave quickly and quietly

If de-escalation is not possible, it will be necessary to remove yourself from the situation quickly and without fuss. If unable to escape by vehicle, look around for places nearby where you can seek sanctuary and call the authorities or a supervisor. Hotels, museums, banks, office blocks and travel agents can all work in a pinch.

Debrief to colleagues

A confrontation could indicate changing attitudes to your colleagues on the ground. Or may be an opportunity to revise security protocols. Once in a position to do so, inform a supervisor or whoever is responsible for employee safety at your organisation.

Resilience Academy courses have been developed to support a variety of sectors that deploy personnel, or work with local agents, in hostile or insecure environments. Learn more here.