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In the dynamic world of publicly accessible leadership, communication challenges are inevitable, especially in polarizing times. Part of the strategy we provide to our public-facing clients is mastering the art of “pre-de-escalation.” Pre-de-escalation is the proactive approach of identifying scenarios likely to spark conflict and implementing strategies to mitigate tension before it flourishes to the point that requires actual de-escalation.

Here are some of those preventative measures you can take to make your communication more effective:

1. Building Relationships

The foundation of pre-de-escalation is strong relationships. By fostering genuine connections with stakeholders, leaders can create a reservoir of goodwill that helps cushion the impact of contentious issues. Regular, open communication and showing a vested interest in the community’s concerns can build trust and rapport.

“The foundation of pre-de-escalation is strong relationships.”

2. Inoculating Audiences Against Counterarguments

Pre-emptively addressing potential counterarguments is another critical tactic. By acknowledging and responding to opposing viewpoints before they arise, leaders can prevent these arguments from gaining traction. This approach demonstrates foresight and transparency, making it harder for conflict to escalate.

3. Creating Rules of Engagement

Establishing clear rules of engagement sets expectations for how discussions should be conducted. This framework helps maintain a respectful and productive dialogue, even when disagreements arise. Clearly defined boundaries and protocols can significantly reduce the likelihood of conversations spiraling into conflict.

4. Redirecting Energy

You should want to hear from your community. Change may be needed and insights may be shared. That will typically be most helpful, though, when even conflict is addressed in a strategic manner instead of just being a free-for-all.

Channeling the community’s energy into constructive avenues is essential. Providing ample opportunities for stakeholders to express their views and feel heard can diffuse potential tensions. This could involve regular town hall meetings, surveys, or feedback sessions ahead of significant announcements. By giving the community a platform to voice their opinions, leaders can address concerns proactively and demonstrate that they value input.

Consider this Real Example

Recently, a client of ours that we provide strategy and training to found themselves in the middle of a hostile public meeting. This client is an agency that sells financial services to municipalities, typically through public town hall meetings.

During the meeting in which our client was planning to make their pitch, a raucous conflict on the municipal board spilled into the town hall. A board member’s family member vocally disrupted the session and for a moment it looked like things might get physical.

Thankfully, two pre-de-escalation strategies worked in favor of our client:

First, the board had done its job and had established clear and fair rules for speaking order, maintaining structure and focus and redirecting how that family member should address their complaints in a manner that allowed them to be heard but not in front of the whole town during  a meeting with an alternate agenda.

Second, our client had built strong relationships with the community and board through frequent, low-cost check-ins (including as simple as bringing donuts to a local event), so the negativity didn’t spill over onto them. The rapport they had built enabled them to defuse tension with humor and successfully pitch their service.


Pre-de-escalation is a powerful tool in a leader’s communication arsenal. By building strong relationships, pre-empting counterarguments, establishing engagement rules, and redirecting energy, leaders can navigate potential conflicts effectively, ensuring a more harmonious and productive environment.

Reach out to BizComm Ally to learn more about our strategy and training services.

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