The Powerful Decision-Making Tool That Helps Reduce Behavioral Risk Factors

April 13, 2021

Did you know there’s a name for the decision-making process we move through throughout our entire day? If you were to count the decisions you make every day, you would find that you consistently make hundreds, if not thousands, of daily decisions based on the behavioral risk factors associated with each choice.

Before we even walk out the front door, we make decisions involving routine—everyday tasks like whether to press the snooze button, what to eat for breakfast, and what to wear. Then we begin the commute to work, and the decisions become more frequent and potentially risky. We decide whether to wear a seatbelt, how fast we drive, when to switch lanes, and the ultimate question of stop or go when the light turns from green to yellow.

Once the workday starts, we begin making countless decisions revolving around tasks, goals, interactions, and the almost inevitable crisis.

Early in the day, we’ve already accepted several risks. The house could have burned down while we were cooking breakfast, a car accident could have occurred on the highway, or we could have been issued the dreaded traffic violation on the way to work.

Accepting and managing risks relating to crisis intervention is a whole different ballgame.

The reason we accept and sometimes even ignore risk in our everyday lives is that we perceive either the likelihood of a bad consequence occurring or the severity of outcome (or both) to be low. This is what the Decision-Making MatrixSM encapsulates. In this blog, we’ll review the Decision-Making MatrixSM, and explore ways you can use this powerful tool to prevent, plan for, and identify crises.

The Decision-Making MatrixSM

The Decision-Making MatrixSM is a tool used in CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention®, 2nd Edition Training program. It teaches us to objectively assess both low and high-risk behaviors so that we can make decisions that de-escalate those behaviors and reduce the likelihood of more severe outcomes.

Let’s think about a crisis situation when we put the Decision-Making MatrixSM into the mix. When you made each of those decisions noted earlier, the risk factors you weighed revolved around risks to you. The difference in a crisis situation is that you are responsible for maintaining the Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security SM of not only yourself, but your co-workers, bystanders, and the person in crisis as well.

How you handle this situation becomes more about actual risk to everyone involved versus fear, concern, or emotions that may not be productive.

More Intentional Behaviors

The more decision you consciously make, the more intentional and in control of your own behaviors you will be.

Too often, well-intentional staff members negatively impact a crisis because they’re not engaging in an intentional process of decision making. Instead of maintaining focus on what outcome we would like to achieve, we can easily fall into the trap of getting lost in the moment.

When staff are well trained, they have a wide range of interventions at their disposal to manage the wide range of behaviors they are sure to encounter.

If we choose our actions wisely, our likelihood of de-escalating the situation before it goes past the Defensive or Anxiety level of the Crisis Development ModelSM increases.

When thinking about decision making, it’s important to think about the process in terms of a much larger picture, rather than solely the decision of whether or not to use physical intervention—the last resort tool. If we only begin the decision-making process at the third level of a crisis, we are likely to have missed several opportunities to decelerate the behaviors of the individual in crisis.

Using the Decision-Making MatrixSM to Prevent Crises

In order to achieve maximum effectiveness in our decision making, we must first overcome a culprit that has been often known to hijack the decision-making process: HABIT.

Many of our day-to-day decisions are based on habit. Usually, this consistency serves to simplify our lives. When it comes to a crisis, however, making habitual decisions can have unproductive consequences that we may not foresee. In other words, unintentional actions can have unintended consequences.

These habitual decisions can take the form of nonverbals like gestures, posture, facial expressions, or even touch. Or, we might fall into the habit of using the same tone and cadence to repeat the same phrases to the same individuals day after day.

Part of understanding the process of decision making is understanding the need to align the intent and the impact of our actions. One of the best ways to reduce the potential for our own behaviors to escalate a situation is to be aware and intentional in terms of our nonverbal communication, paraverbal communication, and the decisions we make about the actual words we say.

CPI’s Top 10 De-escalation Tips

Based on strategies taught in CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, these tips will help you respond to difficult behavior in the safest, most effective way possible.


Using the Decision-Making MatrixSM to Plan for Crises

You can use the Decision-Making MatrixSM to plan for specific risk behaviors of individuals, in addition to emergencies and other crisis situations.

We’ve all probably come across that individual who engages in the gamut of behaviors and who goes into crisis frequently. If we were to plot all of this person’s behaviors on the Decision-Making MatrixSM,  we would likely see that some of the behaviors are very likely to occur, but actually present a low severity of outcome (lower risk).

While such behaviors may be unproductive and disruptive, we might realize that there are other behaviors that occur with similar frequency and that present a more severe set of outcomes (higher risk).

In this scenario, we might choose to focus on strategies to reduce the severity of the higher risk behavior and/or the frequency with which it occurs. To manage this, you could:

  • Plan to use a team approach
  • Role-play specific strategies for using verbal intervention with the person
  • Teach the person coping mechanisms
  • Identify resources to reduce the risk to the person in crisis, and to staff and bystanders
  • Develop emergency plans

You may also choose to pay less attention to the behaviors that do not pose as severe of an outcome. This strategy should only be used until staff learn how to more effectively manage and prevent crises.

Using the Decision-Making MatrixSM to Identify Situations with Severe Outcomes

Think about how often we do fire drills in comparison to how often a fire actually occurs. This is an example of how important it is to plan for the scenarios we may be faced with, where the outcomes can pose a severe threat to safety.

As it relates to the Decision-Making MatrixSM, you can use CPI’s tool to help you develop emergency plans, procedures for removing an audience, procedures for fostering a safe environment, methods of setting limits, and more.

The challenge with high-risk situations is that we’re often tasked with multiple questions internally before we can process the situation. But if we keep our decisions rooted in these two factors—likelihood and severity of outcome—we can increase our chances of safely managing the behavior of the person in crisis and minimizing physical, emotional, and psychological risks.

The next time you find yourself intervening in a crisis, make sure your actions are decided based on the factors of likelihood and severity of outcome, rather than fear or unproductive habits. 

If you’re a ready to take your knowledge and training to the next level, register for a training program near you.

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