CPI provides organizations with customizable de-escalation training solutions that help create sustainable cultures of safety and well-being. While the following blog was originally written specifically for law enforcement professionals, the verbal de-escalation tips provided are beneficial for everyone.
Empathetic Listening as a De-escalation Strategy
Officers are often called to situations that can become dangerous. Although an officer’s first inclination may be to intervene immediately, there may be a safer, more effective way to respond. If the individual in crisis is not a danger to themselves or others, there is time to make a quick assessment by listening with empathy.
There are five things to remember when practicing empathetic listening:
- Give the person your undivided attention.
- Be nonjudgemental.
- Focus on the person’s feelings, not just the facts.
- Allow for silence.
- Use restatement to clarify messages.
Offer Your Undivided Attention
Giving someone your undivided attention helps them feel heard, seen, and valued. Failing to do so can cause a person to feel ignored, and their behavior may escalate as a result.
You have to do more than just saying that you are listening. You need to listen with your whole body. This means looking directly at the person, making eye contact with them if it is culturally appropriate, and positioning your body to be in a neutral, open position—something CPI calls using the Supportive StanceSM.
Being nonjudgmental is another important way to help de-escalate the emotions and behaviors of a person in crisis. While it is easy to find yourself subconsciously judging a person's words and actions, doing so can cause a situation to escalate even further.
Instead, keep your body language and facial features neutral. Listen to understand what the person is telling you instead of listening to respond. If the person is sitting down, consider sitting with them so you are on the same level.
Focus on Feelings
We all have Precipitating Factors—internal or external causes of behavior over which we have little or no control. When an officer arrives on the scene, they rarely know what the person has experienced or what Precipitating Factors are at play.
Another way to help de-escalate a situation is to focus on understanding a person’s feelings and connecting with them on a human level. Say things like:
- “How are you doing today?”
- “Can you tell me more about what that feels like?”
- “I am sorry to hear that. I am here to help.”
These phrases, when said in a nonjudgmental way, let someone know you are there to genuinely understand them and help them.
Allow for Silence
During a crisis, it can be second nature for officers to want to ensure others that they are doing all they can to handle things quickly and calmly. However, there are benefits in using silence to de-escalate a situation.
Consider offering a person additional silence and time to answer a question. Keep in mind a person in distress may be unable to answer, thinking about what to say, or afraid to respond.
By allowing for silence, you can give the person space to process what is being asked and to respond. By being patient, you can help reduce the tension of a situation.
When someone answers a question, an officer may think they know what a person means. But, to avoid any confusion or escalation, it is best to clarify what is being said.
For example, if someone who is homeless says, “I don’t want to sleep here anymore,” an officer might think they know what the person needs. Instead of assuming, restate the question and offer a possible solution: “Since you don’t want to sleep here anymore, would you like to go to a shelter?”
Asking questions demonstrates you are interested in understanding exactly how to best support the person. It also gives the individual a chance to clarify their needs and get the proper support.
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.Download
Rational Detachment as a De-escalation Strategy
Listening with empathy is key to supporting a person in need. Staying in control of your own emotions and behaviors is another. CPI calls this skill Rational Detachment.
To rationally detach yourself from a situation, you need to:
- Develop a plan.
- Use a team approach.
- Use positive self-talk.
- Recognize your personal limits.
- Debrief after event.
Develop a Plan
Decisions made before a crisis are more rationally thought out than those made in the moment. CPI’s proactive de-escalation training can provide you and your staff with the skills needed to develop a plan and have a common language in place to safely address challenging situations.
Use a Team Approach
It is often easier to maintain professionalism in a challenging situation when you have coworkers nearby, especially when those coworkers are also trained in CPI’s de-escalation skills. If you find that you are becoming escalated, a team approach allows you to ask another person to step in while you regain Rational Detachment.
Use Positive Self-Talk
Using positive self-talk is one way to regain composure if you start to feel your own behavior and emotions escalating. For officers, this can be as simple as telling yourself, “I have the proper training and I know what to do.” Reassuring yourself of your strengths is essential.
Recognize Personal Limits
Being a professional does not mean that you need to excel at everything. We all have limits to what we can do and how our brains respond under stress. Consider what your personal limits are and have plans in place for how staff members can support one another.
CPI encourages all organizations to debrief after an incident occurs. Talking about what happened and discussing what went well and what could be improved can not only relieve stress but also boost staff morale. Debriefing can also serve to help staff rationally detach in the future and proactively de-escalate a challenging situation.
Originally published June 1, 2011
To learn more about how CPI training can help your staff safely and proactively de-escalate situations, schedule a consultation below: