A Matter of Security
Security operatives have to deal with conflict constantly. In every aspect of the industry, it is a given. We work in an industry where the levels of security can vary from job to job. Depending on the type of security you are providing, the urgency and ways to deal with conflict, can be handled differently from person to person and under various circumstances. That is, conflict in an entry level security job will differ to that of a nightclub bouncer and differ greatly again for an armed security operator. The appropriate course of action has to be determined by a number of factors including;
- The extremities or constant unknowns of your environment
- The preservation of life – yours and those around you
- Your depth of experience and expertise
- Company protocols and procedures
Conflict can be described as friction, or discontent arising within a person or group because they feel their beliefs or actions have been met by the resistance or unjust actions of another person or group. Conflict can also occur between members of the same group and it can occur within members of two or more groups.
Your ability to resolve conflict is crucial. Being able to assess and minimize the risk of violence without involving the Police is an invaluable skill.
Security training establishments offer this practice as an integral part of their security curriculum. In most instances the course is designed to help operators identify the modes of conflict they might encounter, equip them with skills to deescalate conflict, and develop effective communication in confrontational situations.
In my experience, learning modules with a heavy practical component, is most suited to learning this topic. There is no better education than on the job training too guided by an experienced senior. It will enhance your critical decision-making and strategy development.
Before any problem can be resolved, you’ve got to know what you’re dealing with. By recognizing basic behavioral patterns and characteristics of conflict you can begin to minimize the escalation of it. Conflict can start from being frustrated, poor communication, unmet expectations, cultural differences, customer ignorance or failure to follow rules.
Unless you know what your looking for, the reason for conflict isn’t always obvious. I had no course to teach me this skill. They did not exist. Fortunately I was taught by excellent doormen who could read the signs and stages of conflict using observation and reading customers body language, their gestures and facial expressions. I also started to understand that there were other signs. All it took was to listen to what people were saying, the tone in their voice and the language they were using. Being able to read people in this manner comes with good training and experience.
Now that you know what’s going on we also have to consider our own actions. Our attitude and the way we deal with a situation can either diffuse or escalate the conflict. It is important that we take away the emotional aspect of the conflict. Things are sure to go pear shaped if we start taking things personally.
Emotional responses are always based on feelings, while rational responses are based on thinking. It is natural for our emotions to prevail and cloud our rational thinking. This irrational thinking will cause a spontaneous response to a threat. In this case our survival instincts kick in. This is called the flight or fight mode.
As trained professionals we learn to manage these situations, through positive but assertive behavior. Always be aware of your actions through your gestures, eye-contact, tone of your voice, and your breathing pace. Portraying a calm, self-controlled individual is our objective at all times. Failure to portray this will only escalate a potentially volatile situation. Other things to consider when dealing with the customer in conflict are;
- To give them space- maintain a good safe distance from the customer giving you and them an option to leave the situation at any time.
- Communication like noise or overcrowding can be fixed by moving to a quieter location. Its also private and less embarrassing.
- When dealing with language barriers speak slowly and in simple terms, repeating the message as many times as needed
- Cultural awareness – always have respect for differing values and traditions.
By behaving in a professional and respectful manner, you will be able to effectively contain most scenarios. It is the basis of any conflict management strategy.
Here are some tried and tested techniques I have used that work;
Your starting point in any conflict is to remain calm. This can be easier said that done but I embrace the opportunity to resolve a conflict. I always remain calm listen and start to paint a picture from the verbal and non verbal signs I am getting from the person in front of me.
Just stop and listen. Too many of us start addressing a problem or dispute without understanding what the problem is. Or, you only want to listen so you can make your point.You cannot take what people say to you personally.Don’t let emotion cloud your rational thinking. Listen actively and focus only on the issue. Detach yourself from how the issue is making you feel personally.
I find the best thing to do is to let them vent. Eventually they will convey an issue that is standing in the way of them resolving it.
Find Something You Have in Common
It helps if you can find something in common, or create a commonality. This is a very effective ploy. Hence, why it is so important to observe and ask probing questions during your conversation.
You might make a comment about sharing a similar experience. I’ve made comments about shoes they have on, talking about where I bought them, how comfortable they might be. It takes their mind off what they are disgruntled about. For a brief moment they feel like you are siding with them. You then refer back to the problem acquiring more information from a less confrontational person. It is a great deescalating ploy.
The key here is to help people understand what you’re saying without them being defensive. If you show empathy and diplomacy in your approach, they will be more receptive to what you need them to hear and adhere to.
“I” messages are important because they describe the experience through the speaker’s eyes, rather than on the consequence. Here’s an example of a common scenario…
“I need you to get out of the line, get something to eat and something non-alcoholic to drink. I think you’re too intoxicated to be in the venue tonight, your speech is slurred and you’re unable to walk unassisted. The law says you can’t be in our premises in that state. I need you to go away and do as I have asked. I’ll reassess your situation in an hour and if I think you’re sober enough I’ll let you in. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request, do you?”
Using this technique I try to remove any reasons to fuel an argument in their next statement back to me.
Don’t Play the Blame Game
Getting your point across will be heard more clearly if you can just focus your comments on the issue. Rather than blaming people for their situation, I would focus on the issue itself and compromise a workable solution to keep all parties happy. Again, the above scenario illustrates this ploy best. When people feel like they are being blamed they will leave the conversation or become defensive and argumentative.
Using the scenario above as an example I am focussing and stating the issue and compromised and offered a solution.
Think Before you Speak
You always want to ensure that the person who you are talking to does not get defensive.
People always brashly question what they perceive as a judgment or opinion. If you want someone to answer you real information, rather than argue the point, I will always start with giving them a reason why I am asking them in the first place. Here’s an example.
“Your partner doesn’t seem to be on our guest list, I need to clear this up with the promoter immediately, can I see some identification please?”
This style of questioning projects confidence, competency and an urgency to reach a resolve it also minimizes a less defensive response.
The other type of effective questioning to acquire more information is an open-ended question. These invite the other person to impart information she thinks is important relative to their situation. Here are a couple of examples.
“Lets start from the beginning, can you tell me what happened?” or “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling, what happened?”
Dealing with conflict is daunting with most people shying away from it. Over the years I’ve imparted this knowledge to employees and applied the same techniques to my personal life. The process works. All you have to do is follow the steps.
Learn and Move On
The responsibilities of a security operative doesn’t end with the resolution of conflict. Because you’ll encounter conflict frequently it’s important to evaluate and learn from the encounter. The more I was exposed to conflict the better I got at recognizing different patterns of conflict, and coming up with preventative measures to respond efficiently.
We are all human and in these situations we need to be honest with ourselves when analyzing or evaluating or part in the conflict. It will improve the way you handle things in future encounters.
The above strategies can be applied to any organization or situation you might face in our own lives. We also have to remember that not all conflicts can be resolved. What is important is, that the ability to communicate effectively, recognize a problem and solving that problem should not be taken for granted.