A Quick Trick for Verbal Intervention

October 29, 2010
Two people engaged in conversation in a office

Just when I think I’ve talked about everything there is to know about “how we say what we say,” I come across one more piece.

We’re often aware of how our tone, volume, and cadence impacts behavior, but we sometimes miss out on why we use inappropriate paraverbals.

Finding out the why of our own staff behaviors can often lead to ideas about how to prevent what we do that contributes to crisis behavior.

This post can serve the dual purpose of inciting introspection about our own behaviors and raising talking points to discuss when teaching Unit 3 in the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course.


As far as why we use tone that's unproductive, the reasons are numerous. Staff is tired, frustrated, unsure, disrespectful, confused, busy, vindictive, lacking confidence, inattentive, etc.

I think it’s easy to see how these emotions can drive our behaviors and result in improper tone.

We’re human and we make mistakes!

If we are more in tune with our own Precipitating Factors, we will be less likely to use a tone that results in crisis situations.


In regards to volume, staff can use a level of volume that results from basic assumptions that we all make about care receivers and students.

Have you ever witnessed staff using an inappropriate volume because somebody was from another culture, or had a physical disability or a condition like dementia?

In those situations, staff will sometimes raise their volume because they assume the person will understand the message better. Or lower their volume because they think the individual won’t understand the message unless they do.

The result can often be the opposite of what the staff member envisioned.

To be sure, there are times when we need to raise or lower our volume in order to get someone’s attention or make a point.

But for the most part, a normal volume is more conducive to the goals we seek—prevention or de-escalation of crisis behavior.


Cadence is the third piece.

In a human services environment, we frequently say the same messages to the unending tide of people that walk through our doors. Whether it’s repeating a frequently asked list of questions or stating a policy that is often violated, we sometimes forget that our cadence picks up speed because we’ve said the same message over and over again and it has become part of our procedural memory.

One way I avoid this problem is by reminding myself that although I may have said this message a million times, it may be the FIRST time this new person is hearing it. Don’t they deserve an even rate and rhythm of speech?

Think about HOW you say what you say and WHY.

It’s difficult to manage behaviors when we ourselves can’t manage our own. Let’s make an effort to manage our tone, volume, and cadence in order to produce better outcomes. Please provide your own strategies in the comments section below.

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