Verbal De-Escalation and Self-Defense
What is De-Escalation
De-escalation is a verbal self-defense strategy to avoid an altercation. The goal is to establish rapport and build a connection with the person becoming agitated, to defuse any explosive anger.
De-escalation is a good strategy when dealing with someone who is normally peaceable but who is dealing with unusual or extreme circumstances. De-escalation is also useful when dealing with individuals whose personality is somewhat volatile but not otherwise violent. De-escalation may also be useful when faced with an armed robber.
De-escalation is not as useful when dealing with stranger sexual assault, or with someone whose sole intent is harm. Its usefulness in domestic violence is also variable.
How to Use It
Most of our verbal communication is actually non-verbal. The most essential physical things to do in de-escalating communication are:
- Breathe, leads to . . .
- Cool, calm collected, leads to . . .
- Body position
The essential emotional things to do are:
- Detach, don’t take it personally
- Don’t attribute motive or jump to conclusions about the other’s behavior
- Give the person an “out”
The key “DON’TS are:
- Don’t command
- Don’t threaten
- Don’t challenge
- Don’t argue
Fortunately, there are more key “dos” than “don’ts.” I for one always like knowing what I can do that’s positive.
Most people who have been triggered and are escalating believe that they are not being heard. Escalation is often their attempt to be heard.
- Look at them like a person, rather than as a bug (contempt escalates)
- Respect their personal space
- Listen actively: Let the other person know you are trying to understand their point of view
- Use positive self talk to keep yourself calm
- Acknowledge the “truth” in what they are saying, as well as their feelings
- Act as if there is no attack. Be unresponsive to hostile energy directed at you. Keep energy down, step aside from it.
- Get to yes — agree with whatever you can
- Apologize, even if you aren’t responsible or “sorry”
- Ask questions (can be used to show empathy or to control the situation)
- Ask them to leave/delay the conversation (especially good with people you know well)
- Change the subject
- Compliment or thank them
- Create a bond (“that happened to me and I hated it”)/Empathize if true (does not work if they think you’re lying)
- Explain your intention and expectations – briefly, don’t make it all about you
- Give them options. Put all options in the positive; only set limits you can enforce.
- Invite them to talk
- Offer them a face-saving exit
- Reframe or solve the problem, if appropriate
- Use deescalating language: Create a “we.” Say “and” where you might normally say “but.”
- Use humor (but not at their expense!)Use their name or a respectful title