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De-escalation Tips

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

In the light of the many recent hardships, it feels almost glib to suggest that de-escalation is really ever this simple. The truth is that there is no magic recipe for keeping troubling things from happening in the world. But there is a way that you can respond to these kinds of events that is constructive, positive, and impacts real resolution.

These de-escalation tips are about support, not suppression, and about seeing each other with the humanity and compassion that each of us wants to be seen with.

10 De-Escalation Tips:

  1. Be Empathic and Nonjudgmental Do not judge or be dismissive of the feelings of the person in distress. Remember that the person’s feelings are real, whether or not you think those feelings are justified. Respect those feelings, keeping in mind that whatever the person is going through could be the most important event in their life at the moment.

  2. Respect Personal Space Be aware of your position, posture, and proximity when interacting with a person in distress. Allowing personal space shows respect, keeps you safer, and tends to decrease a person’s anxiety. If you must enter someone’s personal space to provide care, explain what you’re doing so the person feels less confused and frightened.

  3. Use Nonthreatening Nonverbals The more a person is in distress, the less they hear your words—and the more they react to your nonverbal communication. Be mindful of your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice. Keeping your tone and body language neutral will go a long way toward defusing a situation.

  4. Keep Your Emotional Brain in Check Remain calm, rational, and professional. While you can’t control the person’s behaviour, how you respond to their behaviour will have a direct effect on whether the situation escalates or defuses. Positive thoughts like “I can handle this” and “I know what to do” will help you maintain your own rationality and calm the person down.

  5. Focus on Feelings Facts are important, but how a person feels is the heart of the matter. Yet some people have trouble identifying how they feel about what’s happening to them. Watch and listen carefully for the person’s real message. Try saying something like “That must be scary.” Supportive words like these will let the person know that you understand what’s happening—and you may get a positive response.

  6. Ignore Challenging Questions Engaging with people who ask challenging questions is rarely productive. When a person challenges your authority, redirect their attention to the issue at hand. Ignore the challenge, but not the person. Bring their focus back to how you can work together to solve the problem.

  7. Set Limits As a person progresses through a crisis, give them respectful, simple, and reasonable limits. Offer concise and respectful choices and consequences. A person who’s upset may not be able to focus on everything you say. Be clear, speak simply, and offer the positive choice first.

  8. Choose Wisely What You Insist Upon It’s important to be thoughtful in deciding which rules are negotiable and which are not. For example, if a person doesn’t want to shower in the morning, can you allow them to choose the time of day that feels best for them? If you can offer a person options and flexibility, you may be able to avoid unnecessary altercations.

  9. Allow Silence for Reflection We’ve all experienced awkward silences. While it may seem counterintuitive to let moments of silence occur, sometimes it’s the best choice. It can give a person a chance to reflect on what’s happening, and how they need to proceed. Silence can be a powerful communication tool.

  10. Allow Time for Decisions When a person is upset, they may not be able to think clearly. Give them a few moments to think through what you’ve said. A person’s stress rises when they feel rushed. Allowing time brings calm.

We cannot control what happens in the world. We can control how we respond to it.

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