Communication, Mediation, and Conflict Resolution Strategies


Rangers employ a number of strategies while interacting with participants and patrolling in Black Rock City. These skills and strategies are techniques employed when engaging in communication, conflict mediation and resolution. 

Active Listening and Nonverbal Communication

After Finding Out, listening is one of the first things we do once we determine that a situation needs Ranger intervention. The goal of active listening is twofold:

  1. To focus your attention as clearly and carefully as possible on what is being said, so that you understand what’s going on.
  2. To convey to the person talking that you are listening to and understanding what they are saying.

Body Language

Another very important thing to pay attention to is body language and other non-verbal communication. Humans are social creatures, and as such, evolved skills to communicate with our body long before we had language. Distress or undesirable behavior itself IS communication—the person in distress is providing physical and possibly non-verbal feedback.

Below are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Use 45-degree stance versus being face-to-face. Make sure to leave sufficient personal space.
  • Touching a participant can calm them down or can make things much, much worse.
  • Leave them an out: Never block someone’s escape route. In an enclosed space, do not stand between an agitated person and the exit.
  • Mirroring/matching: Use the speaker’s tone, body language, and words (careful to avoid this turning into mocking).
  • Pacing and leading: Match speaker’s speed and energy, then gradually slow or calm down.
  • Break state: Do anything else (e.g., go for a walk, smoke a cigarette, eat something, ask irrelevant questions).
  • Eye contact: As mentioned above, use enough to show you’re paying close attention, but not so much that you seem threatening (especially with an angry participant).
  • Writing down: Keeps your facts straight and lets the participant know you’re taking it seriously.

Responding without contradicting is the verbal equivalent of a “45-degree stance”: It avoids confrontation without conceding the point.  Here are some tips for doing this:

“Yes, but …” will lead to argument.  Try “Yes, and …” or just “Yes.”

  • “I love you but I’m upset with you” is not as effective as “I love you and I’m upset with you.”
  • Instead of “I’m not going to do that”, try “You’re right, and I can’t figure out how to make that work.” or  “You’re right.  Can you show me how it could work?”

Don’t contradict.

  • “Wait, I think I might have misunderstood you” works better than “No, you’re wrong.”
  • “Hang on, maybe I wasn’t being clear” works better than “No, that’s not what I said.”

Sometimes, the best way to communicate is by not talking. Silence can be comfortable or uncomfortable: both can be useful in the right situation. Sometimes silent companionship is all that someone needs if they’re stressed out. Uncomfortable silence can be a useful tool for getting people to think about what they’ve been saying or get them to talk more.

Emotional Flooding (Triggers)

Emotional Flooding is an experience that can cause you to react from a place of deep emotion instead of from reason. These events are often referred to as “triggers”.  Emotional flooding isn’t caused by minor annoyances or “pet peeves.” Rather, this phenomena can cause  a loss of objectivity and self-control, and could therefore prevent you from Rangering effectively. You can be flooded emotionally by:

  • Words (e.g., “bitch,” “stupid,” “cop”)
  • Actions (e.g., physical violence)
  • Situations (e.g., lost children, animal abuse)

Learn to recognize when this is happening, and to acknowledge that you’re losing objectivity. If you are aware of the kinds of words, actions, and situations that might cause you to feel emotionally flooded, share them with your partner during your shift. If you find yourself unable to look at a situation from an objective perspective, remove yourself from the situation by kicking it sideways to your partner or to another Ranger team through Khaki.

Expanding your comfort zone is an important exercise, but our commitment to the community and the participants takes precedence over your personal growth. There may be another Ranger better suited to handling that particular situation.


F stands for Find Out.

  • First, do nothing; observe the situation before jumping to conclusions.
  • Be aware of scene safety, your body language, your mindset, and your assumptions. 
  • Be aware of the resources you have, and resources you might need.

L stands for Listen.

  • Active listening.
  • There will always be at least three sides: the individuals involved and an impartial third perspective (the “Truth”).

A stands for Analyze.

  • Gather information.
  • Discuss with your partner.
  • At this point, you should have enough information to begin mediating the situation.

M stands for Mediate.

  • Allow the participants to determine/decide the resolution.
  • Find out where there’s wiggle room and point it out.
  • You’re the neutral third party.
  • Do the best you can to guide, rather than direct.

E stands for Explain.

  • Explain to the parties directly involved. 
  • This might include having the conflicted parties explain to you and to each other what the agreed solution is, or write down an agreement.
  • Explain the resolution to Khaki.
  • Create an incident report if needed.
  • Keep personal information private.


  • Notify Khaki of the what/where/when/how of conflicts and their outcomes during or immediately after your shift (you can drop written reports off at HQ at the end of your shift or fill out an incident report at the kiosk behind HQ).
  • Always be sure to find out first.
  • New information and new perspectives can often send you back to find out more, listen to new stakeholders, or analyze facts that you didn’t have when you began FLAME-ing the situation.

Conflict Resolution Tips

  • Remember that everyone thinks they have a good reason for what they do.
  • Use active listening skills.
  • Never tell someone to “calm down”; calm them down by your presence and performance.
  • When body language and words come into conflict, words will lose every time.
  • Use “we” and “us” to generate connections with people.
  • Separate arguing people if possible, so you and your partner can talk to them individually.
  • If you have separated participants, be sure to keep your partner in sight at all times.
  • The less ego you bring to the table, the more control you will have over a situation.
  • Be aware of words,issues, and situations that can cause you to feel emotionally flooded.
  • Never lose self-control: walk away before you do and defer to your partner.
  • Ask involved citizens to think about possible solutions (and give them time to do so).
  • You move a crowd one person at a time.
  • Treat everyone with equal respect.
  • Let involved citizens or passionate observers have the last word, as long as you have the last act.
  • Always keep our social capital in mind when dealing with participants, staff, and outside agencies.
  • A useful follow-up: “If you need anything, come find us.” Assuring folks that we are, after all, on their side and that help is available if something important comes up.

Empathy and Empathic Attunement

“Empathic attunement” is understanding somebody else’s emotions and then communicating to them that you understand them.

This is important because feeling understood can be calming/de-escalating for an upset participant, and they are more likely to be open to your input if they feel understood.

The point of empathic attunement is not to talk someone out of how they’re feeling, it’s to tune in to how they’re feeling so you can connect with them and thus deal with them more effectively.

Interest versus Position

One of the most useful conflict resolution concepts is the difference between interests and positions.

An interest is someone’s underlying need or want. For example:

“I’ve been up all night because the neighbor camp is playing loud music.” 

My underlying interest is in getting to sleep.

A position is somebody’s stated requirement of how they want to get that interest satisfied. For example:

“I need you jerks to turn off your stereo right now!”

Positions are not always unreasonable, just a difficult place from which to negotiate. Identifying underlying interests can be powerful because it helps people generate more options, and thus makes it more likely that the conflict can be resolved. Focusing on positions leads towards an “I win or you win” situation,” focusing on underlying interests leads away from that kind of conflict.

Observation and Inference

What did you actually see or hear, and what you believed to be happening, based on what you heard or saw? What you “believe” to be happening may not fit the facts and can lead you to ask questions or communicate in a style which might make things worse. Inferences may not always be wrong, and being aware of them may lead to more positive interactions.

Assumptions and Bias

Inferences can be significantly colored by assumptions and implicit and explicit biases. It is good to be mindful and informed of your explicit biases and also aware of how your choices, opinions, and language may be affected by implicit bias. Examine personal assumptions in your attitudes and communication with others. Reflect and disclose, at least to yourself, your own interests and agendas. The receivers will quickly tune out if they suspect that you have a hidden agenda. By being self-reflective, aware, and authentic, you will gain credibility, which is essential for effective communication.

Harvard University has a tool for evaluating implicit bias in different categories which can be found here.

Open and Closed Questions

Open-ended questions invite more participation and detail from a speaker.

  • Example: “What are you up to today?”
  • Example: “How’s your Burn going?”

Closed-ended questions invite a yes/no or factual answer.

  • Example: “Do you understand?”
  • Example: “How old are you?”

Both are useful in the right context.

Open-ended questions encourage free communication, closed-ended questions can decrease the level of engagement, which can be useful if you want the person to focus, slow down or be less chatty.


Paraphrasing is a critical skill that helps with active listening. Paraphrasing is restating and summarizing what the speaker is saying without adding anything. This gives the speaker a chance to correct you if you’ve misunderstood something.


We’ve already discussed two very powerful de-escalation techniques: listening and empathy. Here are some other tips:

  • Start by de-escalating yourself.

“Am I feeling overwhelmed or charged by this? Did I just get a jolt of adrenaline?”

  • When things get heavy, slow down instead of rev up.

“Let me breathe for a second and figure out what I want to do here.”

  • Separate arguing people.
  • Ideally, get them out of each other’s sight—while maintaining sight of your Ranger partner. 

Calm people with your presence and actions and example, not by telling them to calm down. It’s hard to get people to calm down if you’re acting anxious or angry. 

Never tell anyone to calm down. Ever. Seriously.

A useful warning sign that you may need to kick it sideways, or call another Ranger pair is if you or the participant are starting to repeat yourselves. This may indicate something has gone wrong in the communication cycle. The speaker may feel misunderstood, or you may be getting overwhelmed or over-involved. If this happens, slow down and ask more questions, or kick it sideways to another set of Rangers.

Transcending the Model

The tools and concepts summarized here and more thoroughly explored in Ranger training, stem from our department’s ideas about what makes up a “model Ranger.” However, it is not effective to have a “model” walking around the playa, thinking about all of their newly-learned skills and trying to use them separately and individually. 

A Ranger is more than the sum of a set of tools and concepts. A Ranger rises above the prescribed model, integrating and surpassing what they learned in training. By transcending the model, you will live and work within the boundaries of the tool set provided while finding your own style shaped by your gut, heart, mind, and training. You will become even more than the model Ranger you aspired to be. Transcending the model happens over time. It cannot be forced and it takes practice. All you can do is be who you are and learn from the interactions you have. Be authentic, and Ranger with curiosity and humility. If you are relaxed and not thinking about every move you make, but instead integrate the concepts of Rangering as your own. You are a Ranger, not a walking tool box.

A Back: Burn Perimeter Protocol  |  Next: Behavior Standards