By Holly South
Political environments quite naturally invite differences of opinion, debate and disagreement.
The political workplace is a haven of various opinions and oftentimes contentious topics people are passionate about—and which can sometimes lead to problems. But while conflict (that is, civil conflict) is expected in legislative chambers, it should not be within legislative staff offices. High-tension, stressful work environments need to be monitored closely so that any conflict can be de-escalated before it causes permanent rifts between colleagues, legislators or the public.
Revisit these NCSL conflict-management resources: “De-Escalation Techniques for the Legislature,” a webinar led by Dan Billings, director of security for the Senate of Pennsylvania; and North Carolina General Assembly Police Department Chief Martin Brock’s article, “Strategies for Resolving Conflict.”
Whether you are mediating the conflict or are one of the parties involved, these legislative security experts agree on three things:
- Listen respectfully. Focusing on the person is the first step to de-escalating conflict because often people just want to be heard. (And don’t ever—EVER—tell someone to “calm down” if you actually want them to calm down.)
- Practice empathy and what Billings refers to as the “Golden Rule of Customer Service.” We all learned this as children: “Do unto others”; treat people the same way you’d hope to be treated in the same situation.
- Remain calm. Pay attention to your body language and tone of voice. How you respond to a coworker could affect your future interactions for years. And any sign of aggression could very well escalate the situation.
Billings also offers advice for what comes next when those strategies don’t work. His parting words: Take threats seriously and familiarize yourself with your workplace safety plan before the session begins.
Holly South is a policy specialist in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services Program.