My friend Courtney takes care of her grandmother, although if you ask her grandmother who takes care of her, she would confidently tell you that she can take very good care of herself. They used to live together, now they live four blocks apart. (One might suspect that this is the ultimate achievement in redirecting challenging behavior, but despite her propensity for button pushing, Courtney’s grandmother has a heart of gold, and they enjoy living in the same neighborhood.)
(She has a heart of gold, and a remarkable ability to ask challenging questions.)
Courtney and I were recently at lunch, when her phone rang. “It’s my grandmother, but I’ll let it go to voicemail. I just saw her last night.”
A few minutes later, Courtney played the voicemail. A firm voice with a lilting Italian accent announced dramatically: “WELL, did you forget that I am still alive? Do you remember your nonna?”
She was fine, Courtney reassured me. She just wanted some help scheduling an eye doctor appointment. 
“Careful wording is necessary with my nonna,” Courtney told me. “If you advise her to do something different than what she wants to, you will be met with some version of ‘Who do you think you are? I’m 88 years old and I do what I want!’”
That’s why Courtney regularly employs another top CPI de-escalation tip: Ignore challenging questions. She knows that behind the dramatic voicemails, her grandmother is not truly worried she has been forgotten, but is upset by the fact that she's an independent person who needs help and doesn't like to ask for it.
While it can be hard to keep your cool when somebody is intent on getting a rise out of you, your best bet when it comes to verbal de-escalation is to learn to see past the challenging behavior and focus on the true needs of the person. Redirecting challenging behavior effectively requires practice and skill (Courtney has become something of a redirection ninja, thanks to her nonna’s propensity for pushing back). Fortunately, it’s not hard to learn how to ignore challenging questions. You just can’t lose your focus on the real issue at hand.
In a fantastic post about fielding tough questions, director of research Robert Rettmann writes, “We need to downplay the challenge, but never the person.” He breaks down a quick, three-step approach to answer any difficult question.
Global Professional Instructor Dan Lonigro also reminds us that paraverbals are especially important when trying to verbally re-direct somebody. Tone, volume, and cadence are all just as critical as the words that you choose, and demonstrates how you can utilize your Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training tools when you’re trying to re-direct somebody from initiating a power struggle. And more recently on the CPI blog, we revisited the Parking-Lot Technique for temporarily re-directing challenging questions while facilitating CPI training—and this tool can be used in any encounter where you need to return focus to a task or situation at hand.
There are many ways to manage challenging behavior (or de-escalate a feisty grandmother), but ignoring challenging questions requires flexibility, calm, and focus. At the end of the day, Courtney loves her nonna and wants to make sure her needs are met. The same values of Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security should drive any effort you make to de-escalate a person in crisis. Downplay the challenge—but never the individual.