L3R – 4.3 Verbal De-Escalation

Verbal De-Escalation

It is important to develop strategies for ensuring safety in potentially problematic situations. In any conflict, you have a choice to escalate the incident further or de-escalate the situation.

Verbal de-escalation is an intervention for use with people who are showing signs of agitation and are at risk for aggression. It generally involves using calm language, along with other communication techniques, to diffuse, re-direct, or de-escalate a conflicting situation.

  • Signs of agitation may include:
  • Raised voice
  • High-pitched voice
  • Rapid speech
  • Pacing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive hand gestures
  • Fidgeting
  • Shaking
  • Balled fists
  • Erratic movements
  • Aggressive posture
  • Verbally abusive statements

I Phases of Behavior Escalation

The escalation cycle is a widely used model that provides individuals with a toolkit of non-restrictive intervention strategies to effectively manage challenging behavior. It is important to be aware of the seven phases of the escalation cycle so that you can identify them quickly and respond with the most effective course of action when needed (Table 4.1).

Figure 4.1: Seven Phases of Escalation Cycle

CalmThis is when a person is relatively calm and cooperative and not showing any signs of aggression or distress.• Focus on maintaining a clear, consistent environment and listening actively to build rapport and empathize with the individual.
• Use open-ended questions (e.g. How did this happen?) or verbal prompts to guide the conversation and explore potential solutions together.
• It is also a good time to gather
TriggerThis occurs when an internal or external factor has triggered a person’s emotional response, causing them to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or distress.• Focus on identifying the trigger and remaining calm while redirecting behavior.
• Try to move away from provocative situations or environments that can lead to further agitation and create
opportunities for success.
AgitationCommon behavior triggers
include over stimulation (e.g. bright lights, loud noises.), transitions and unfamiliar tasks, people or places.
• Focus on reducing anxiety and increasing predictability.
• Use non-confrontational non-verbal behavior and “start”, instead of “stop” directions.
• Break down directions into smaller steps and offer choices to help them
regain a sense of control.
AccelerationThis occurs when an individual has reached a high level of emotional arousal and begins displaying more intense behaviors such as shouting, hitting or destroying property. If conflict is unresolved, it becomes the person’s sole focus• Use short phrases and allow processing time.
• Maintain calmness and detachment.
• Remain neutral and controlled, giving the person or child enough time and space to process their behavior, while providing reassurance in order to help reduce tension levels.
• Use active listening, reflection and restatement to clarify concerns and show you understand his/her
PeakThis is when an individual’s behavior has escalated out of control and poses a danger to themselves or those around them. Individual may temporarily lose ability to rationally think.• Focus on crisis intervention procedures to maintain a safe environment.
• Isolate individual by removing the audience and/or potential hazards and call for help/witness, if needed.
• Don’t threaten consequences now;
discuss when the person is more rational.
De-EscalationThis occurs when an individual comes down from the peak of their disruption and may become less hostile; may need support to process feelings afterwards.• Focus on defusing immediate danger while rebuilding trust with those involved.
• Remove excess attention and help the individual regain composure, where possible.
• Allow a cool down period; look for less tense appearance, normal breathing, and willingness to comply
with small requests.
RecoveryThis is when an individual returns to a calm state and displays appropriate behavior for the task or situation at hand.• This is the best time for parties involved to debrief and document what happened, review procedures taken and determine the most effective solutions to avoid similar scenarios in future interactions.

II Techniques

Do not get loud or yell over a screaming person. Wait until he/she takes a breath, speaking calmly at a normal volume. Respond simply. Repeat if necessary. Answer informational questions, no matter how rudely asked.

  • Focus on maintaining the following:
  • Do not be defensive
  • Be honest
  • Explain limits and rules
  • Be respectful
  • Empathize with feelings, not behaviors
  • Suggest alternatives

a. Minimal Encouragers

Minimal encouragers demonstrate to the person that you are listening and paying attention, without stalling the dialogue or creating an undue interruption.

Examples include:

  • Brief nonverbal expressions such as head nodding
  • Simple verbal responses
    • Okay
    • Uh-huh
    • I see
    • I am listening

b. Reflection

Reflections shows evidence of active listening by repeating what the person has said. These statements should be brief, without being patronizing, or interrupting the agitated person.

c. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions allow you to gather more information and assess whether the situation is potentially dangerous to you or others. By using phrases such as “Tell me about..” or “What do you think…,” you can assess whether the person is rational and/or escalating the situation at hand.

III Redirecting Negative Behavior

There are five overarching steps that in most cases will help you to successfully redirect negative behavior:

  • Get the person talking. Respectfully opening up communication leads to the next step.
  • Use empathy. This helps to activate active listening skills and supports reflection and positive interactions with the individual.
  • Build rapport. Once this occurs, you can base the interaction on a mutual respect and understanding.
  • Start problem solving. Sample statements include “How can you help us? We have to figure out some information and we’d love to have your cooperation. How can we work this out?”
  • Engage in a resolution. This allows the pace to slow down and encourages the individual to be part of a positive outcome.