Last week I wrote a post about how positioning is critical in conflict resolution and I promised to explain more about my POLITE system. I developed my POLITE system to help my delegates remember the rules on resolving a conflict.

POLITE is an acronym for the following:

  1. Position
  2. Observation
  3. Listening
  4. Intuition
  5. Talking
  6. Emotional state control

It is important to remember each element is as important as the others. For instance, if you haven’t got your position right during the conflict, then how can you OBSERVE and see and read things clearly. This leads me nicely to the second element of the POLITE system which is OBSERVATION.

When you are trying to resolve a conflict, or trying to stop a violent situation, you should be constantly looking to the client, checking if they are becoming more or less aggressive. If the client is becoming less aggressive, your communications strategy is working so keep on doing the things you are doing. However, if they are becoming more aggressive you need to change your strategy quickly before the situation irrupts.

The most effective communicators are the ones who are the most flexible and have the ability to adapt regularly. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results from it.

How can you tell if someone is about to get violent?

  1. Clenching their fists
  2. Staring or eye bulging
  3. Hen pecking – This is from the cave man days and the client is sub-consciously protecting their throat
  4. If the go red in the face
  5. If they go whiter in the face – skin tone is a good indicator. All the blood rushes to their muscles as they move into fight mode. Our emotional state is linked to our physiology and we are all hard wired the same
  6. Ballooning or puffing up chest to appear bigger
  7. Stalking – moving up and down in an animalistic state done consciously (or sub-consciously when not controlling their fear). Mike Tyson did this regularly to beat his opponents.
  8. Their words will drop down into single syllables because there frontal lobe has stopped working as they move into FIGHT Mode. There are exceptions they might change their mind.

All of the above become much more exaggerated if people have been drinking or using drugs and the signs are much easier to spot.

If someone is about to attack they almost always have to move forward – maybe just a couple of inches. Sub-consciously our legs move us forward when we are about to attack. If they move back they are moving back to go into flight mode. Some people will move backwards and throw idle threats such as: “You don’t know who you’re going messing with etc etc”. They use threats to save face and not look beaten. On some rare occasions though people do come back to finish the confrontations and in those instances it is often very serious.

If they are rocking on their feet this is known as sticky feet syndrome. It basically means they are still deciding whether to fight or run. Abseilers do this quite a lot before they go over the edge, as they take in the psychological consequences of doing so. If they are in sticky feet syndrome, this is good for you, because it means there is still an opportunity to conclude the confrontation without it becoming violent. However, if they move forward they are going to fight and there is pretty much nothing you can do. So you need to either defend yourself appropriately or get out.

Ideally you want them to be moving back as your tactics are working, so carry on and sort it out. Remember observation and positioning are both key when resolving a conflict.