Behavior Intervention

January 6, 2014
Two people engaged in conversation in a office

When someone’s behavior turns dangerous or out of control, how do you handle the situation?

Whether you work in a school, a hospital, a community home, a library, a government office, a retail store, or anywhere, behavior intervention techniques are essential to working with individuals who lose rationality and control. CPI’s verbal and nonverbal techniques can help you handle problem behavior when it occurs—and they can also help you prevent it from occurring in the first place.

To assist you in practicing safe behavior intervention, we offer a number of resources, including the tips in Creating a Safe and Caring Work Environment, a free eBook packed with strategies for making yourself, your coworkers, and the people in your care safer.

One thing to keep in mind about behavior intervention is that disruptive behavior often occurs when a person feels frightened, agitated, or hurt. A key concept we teach in our training programs is that taking a supportive approach and making the person feel respected can help him or her de-escalate.

5 Behavior Intervention Tips

  1. Be empathic.
    Try not to judge or discount a person’s feelings. Whether or not you think their feelings are justified, their feelings are real to them. Focus on respecting the person’s feelings and treating him with compassion.
  2. Respect personal space.
    Stand at least 1.5 feet away from an escalating person. Also avoid standing eye-to-eye or toe-to-toe with the person. Instead, stand one leg-length away, and at an angle to the person. Decrease their anxiety by giving them space.
  3. Use a nonthreatening tone and body language.
    How you say what you say can have an enormous effect on a person. Make sure that the tone, volume, and cadence of your voice match the respectful words you choose. Also be aware of the messages you send with your gestures, movements, and facial expressions.
  4. Allow venting.
    Allow the person to release as much energy as possible by venting verbally. This will help relieve pressure like a release valve and lessen the risk of a physical outburst. Give the person clear and simple directives and reasonable limits during lulls in the venting.
  5. Set and enforce reasonable limits.
    Limits aren’t threats or ultimatums. Instead, they offer choices with consequences. Explain which behavior is inappropriate, why, and give the person reasonable choices. Allow the person time to make a decision, and be prepared to enforce the consequences you’ve set.

By following these tips and keeping a calm, professional attitude, you can minimize the chance of a situation escalating. Keep in mind too that while you can’t make anyone do anything, you can help them change their own behavior and make positive choices, and that’s an essential part of an effective behavior intervention program.

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