I stumbled across an excellent resource with guidelines for social workers needing to de-escalate volatile situations. It strikes me as relevant to anyone participating in heated discussions relevant to current events, or working in their communities to foster positive change. These tips can be found here: http://www.naswma.org/?page520
While there are some very useful tips for in-the-flesh interactions, I’ve decided to adapt section C, regarding the de-escalation discussion, for social media. Because we all have something valuable to contribute to the conversation, and the angriest among us have a right to be heard, no matter which side of the fence we all stand on. The goal is to tear down the fence and bring everyone together.
It’s important for me to state that I have no qualifications, other than being a human being that craves connection, and life experiences have taught me the power of de-escalation, both as a means of self-preservation and fostering real growth & change. If this resonates with you, please save it, share it, talk about it.
DE-ESCALATING VOLATILE DISCUSSIONS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
- 1. Remember, no matter the original content posted, there is no content to the present discussion, except trying to calmly bring the level of arousal down to baseline.
- 2. Do not get “loud” (all caps) or try to interrupt a person in the middle of a rant. Wait until they are done typing (if they’re making successive comments, give them a few minutes to be sure they’re done), then type your response. Use calm words without exclamation points and emphatic text, avoid sarcasm, say exactly what you mean. And remember that the more concise you are, the less room there is left to misinterpret your tone or what you’ve said.
- 3. Respond selectively; answer all informational questions, no matter how rudely asked, (eg, “Why did they make their announcement when they did?”). DO NOT answer abusive questions, (ie, “Why do black people always have to be destructive?” or “Why are white people so ignorant?”). This sort of question should get no response whatsoever.
- 4. You may decide to have a “code of conduct” for conversations that happen on your own posts, in which name-calling and inflammatory, abusive language is not acceptable. If so, explain limits and rules in an authoritative, firm, but always respectful “tone”. This is sometimes hard to do on the internet; avoiding dramatic language and emphatic type (ie: all capitals, exclamation points, *asterisks denoting boldface*, etc) helps. Give choices where possible in which both options are safe ones (eg, “Would you like to continue this discussion calmly, or would you like to stop now and come back to this thread later when things can be more relaxed?”).
- 5. Empathize with feelings, but not with behavior (eg, “I understand that you have every right to feel angry, but it is not okay for you to insult me or others in this conversation.”).
- 6. Do not solicit how a person is feeling or interpret feelings in an analytic way (eg, “Are you angry? I bet __________ really pisses you off.”).
- 7. Do not argue or try to convince.
- 8. Wherever possible, tap into your discussion partner’s cognitive mode. DO NOT ask, “Can you tell me how you feel?” but instead, “Help me understand what you are saying to me.” People are not attacking you while they are teaching you what you want to know.
- 9. Suggest alternative behaviors where appropriate. This is where the internet’s love affair with cats and baby animals is really helpful. “Here, would you like to look at a baby hippo? Or perhaps this kitten in mittens?”
- 10. Give consequences of inappropriate behavior without threats or anger (eg, “If you continue to post racist language, I will have to delete your comments and/or block you from my feed.”).
- 11. Depersonalize outside influences. Regardless of how you feel about the status quo or responses to it, remove your feelings from the conversation and stick to factual information. (Eg, avoid saying, “The police in this situation have responded poorly,” stick to the facts by saying, “There is decades-old tension between the police and this community.”
- 12. Trust your instincts. If you assess or feel that de-escalation is not working, STOP! Disengage. You will know within 15 minutes if it’s beginning to work. Tell the person to leave the thread, delete inflammatory or hurtful comments, and remove them from your friends list or block them if needed. If this person is someone you’re connected to IRL and/or you feel physically unsafe (eg if they have threatened you or your family), take a screenshot of the threat, report it through the proper channels for the social medium you’re using, and if necessary, call on your circle for support and/or call the police.
—Hopefully, with these guidelines, we can open up and continue to develop channels for healthy discussion that lead to growth and healing for ALL people.