Verbal De-Escalation Is A Learned Skill

Stop trouble before it starts.

posted on May 3, 2023
Verbal de-escalation

Verbal De-Escalation is a form of communication used with people who are showing signs of aggression. In a nutshell, it is a practiced “language” to decrease intensity in a nonviolent manner and re-direct a potentially combative situation to a peaceful outcome.

I have no doubt that you, the reader, have been in some sort of argument with a close friend or loved one that you wished would have never happened or you thought the outcome could have been less destructive, if only you had handled it a little better. I know I have. We all struggle with power, our egos, pride, feelings of disrespect and other stressful factors that impact our actions every day. You can use a few of the tips listed below to help de-escalate a situation with someone “familiar,” but in this article we will highlight de-escalation with a stranger.

The benefit of learning basic principles for handling situations to alleviate someone’s distress has no bounds. To be able to listen to someone, and calmly deal with conflict, increases our level of safety everywhere we go.

It is important to know that there is a difference between trying to defuse aggression that is already in motion and defusing before someone becomes aggressive. Knowing the warning signs and understanding pre-assault indicators is very valuable.

I am not a law enforcement officer, but there are so many police training programs out there that promote all sorts of verbal techniques to use instead of force.

Let’s look at some de-escalation steps that have proven to work well.

  1. First of all, your safety is paramount. Could the angry person have a weapon on them? Can the environment provide them one quickly? Are you being threatened? You need to have a plan if things do not go your way.
  2. Where you position yourself matters. Do not get close to the person and do not block exits. You want to give them “space” and a “way out” to retreat.
  3. Personally take notice of where the closest exits are. Please consider standing with one foot forward and knees slightly bent just in case you need to be explosive and run. This posture also helps you to be “prepped” to quickly make a non-lethal, less than lethal or lethal decision.
  4. Body language speaks louder than words. Try to keep a relaxed facial expression, arms uncrossed, and hands open.
  5. Actively listen. Sometimes just listening and nodding with affirmation can make a person’s “wants and feelings” feel validated. This alone may be enough to dilute irritability.
  6. Do not forget about your intuition. Basically, it’s a snap judgment, or a quick and ready insight. Intuition is a gut reaction that only has your best interest at heart and comes from the Latin word tueri which means "look at, guard, protect, watch over. Listen to it!
  7. Speak as calmly as you can.
  • Using the right tone is as important as choosing the right words.
  • Try to connect, find out what their first name is, and try to use their first name as often as you can.
  • Speak in short sentences, be repetitive (as needed) and stay in control of your actions.
  • Try repeating their comments back to them, be empathetic, and ask non challenging questions.
  • One of the keys to de-escalation is to never say “I’ or use any variation of the word “no”.
  • Stay positive and offer them choices to move past the situation and promote them as the hero of their story. Nobody ever really wants to be the villain, especially in their own story.

Now let’s get to the most frequently ask question, “does it really work?” The answer is definitely yes. Dolan Consulting Group states that “The impact of verbal de-escalation training has been evaluated in law enforcement, hospital, educational, business and psychiatric settings. Despite the fact that these evaluations have included training courses of different lengths and different types of curricula, the findings are consistent. Verbal de-escalation training provides individuals with knowledge, tools and tactics that give them greater confidence and control in situations involving interpersonal conflict. While de-escalation training does not eliminate all conflict and violence, by applying the knowledge, tools and tactics they learned, individuals can defuse more conflict situations that might otherwise have led to violence. The existing evidence is growing and consistently reveals the same conclusions.

Armed with this knowledge, it would seem that any people-intensive industry or profession would be well-served to prioritize routine training in verbal de-escalation skills”.

I personally think this knowledge is beneficial for the general public as early as teens through our mature population and can be used in most environments like work, public places, schools, etc.

De-escalation techniques are a learned skill that needs to be practiced. Have you ever trained in a scenario based setting? All you need is a few loved ones, designate who will be the criminal actor, and practice these techniques in a fun, challenging, and controlled setting.


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