CPI’s Top 10 De-escalation Tips Revisited

June 28, 2022

De-escalation tips to use during times of high stress

In the light of the many recent hardships, it feels almost glib to suggest that de-escalation is really ever this simple. The truth is that there is no magic recipe for keeping troubling things from happening in the world. But there is a way that you can respond to these kinds of events that is constructive, positive, and impacts real resolution. That’s why CPI training is not so much a series of steps as it is a philosophy for viewing humanity as full of potential. These de-escalation tips from CPI are about support, not suppression, and about seeing each other with the humanity and compassion that each of us wants to be seen with.

CPI’s Top 10 De-escalation Tips:

  1. Be Empathic and Nonjudgmental
    Do not judge or be dismissive of the feelings of the person in distress. Remember that the person’s feelings are real, whether or not you think those feelings are justified. Respect those feelings, keeping in mind that whatever the person is going through could be the most important event in their life at the moment.
  2. Respect Personal Space
    Be aware of your position, posture, and proximity when interacting with a person in distress. Allowing personal space shows respect, keeps you safer, and tends to decrease a person’s anxiety. If you must enter someone’s personal space to provide care, explain what you’re doing so the person feels less confused and frightened.
  3. Use Nonthreatening Nonverbals
    The more a person is in distress, the less they hear your words—and the more they react to your nonverbal communication. Be mindful of your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and tone of voice. Keeping your tone and body language neutral will go a long way toward defusing a situation.
  4. Keep Your Emotional Brain in Check
    Remain calm, rational, and professional. While you can’t control the person’s behavior, how you respond to their behavior will have a direct effect on whether the situation escalates or defuses. Positive thoughts like “I can handle this” and “I know what to do” will help you maintain your own rationality and calm the person down.
  5. Focus on Feelings
    Facts are important, but how a person feels is the heart of the matter. Yet some people have trouble identifying how they feel about what’s happening to them. Watch and listen carefully for the person’s real message. Try saying something like “That must be scary.” Supportive words like these will let the person know that you understand what’s happening—and you may get a positive response.
  6. Ignore Challenging Questions
    Engaging with people who ask challenging questions is rarely productive. When a person challenges your authority, redirect their attention to the issue at hand. Ignore the challenge, but not the person. Bring their focus back to how you can work together to solve the problem.
  7. Set Limits
    As a person progresses through a crisis, give them respectful, simple, and reasonable limits. Offer concise and respectful choices and consequences. A person who’s upset may not be able to focus on everything you say. Be clear, speak simply, and offer the positive choice first.
  8. Choose Wisely What You Insist Upon
    It’s important to be thoughtful in deciding which rules are negotiable and which are not. For example, if a person doesn’t want to shower in the morning, can you allow them to choose the time of day that feels best for them? If you can offer a person options and flexibility, you may be able to avoid unnecessary altercations.
  9. Allow Silence for Reflection
    We’ve all experienced awkward silences. While it may seem counterintuitive to let moments of silence occur, sometimes it’s the best choice. It can give a person a chance to reflect on what’s happening, and how they need to proceed. Silence can be a powerful communication tool.
  10. Allow Time for Decisions
    When a person is upset, they may not be able to think clearly. Give them a few moments to think through what you’ve said. A person’s stress rises when they feel rushed. Allowing time brings calm.

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 behaviour in the safest, most effective way possible.


We cannot control what happens in the world. We can control how we respond to it.

In an episode of Unrestrained, a CPI podcast, Certified Instructor and employment counselor Denise Esson shared this thought: “CPI training is not exclusive to workplace settings. It is meant to be used in the workplace, but I truly believe that you take it with you in your daily interactions with your family, your friends, your colleagues, customers, clients, neighbors, people walking by, driving. For me, it's those basic principles of the training that grow out of the basic principles of humanity and decency. Respect each other. Be a servant to each other. Keep each other safe. That's life. That's good living.”

Current events in the world remind us that conflict and crisis are never as straightforward and simple in life as they are on paper (or in a blog post). That is why Denise’s observation is profoundly well-timed, and deeply insightful. By putting simple strategies to work in each element of our daily life, we acknowledge that we can’t control what other people may do, but we can set a stage of positive potential for what we do. We can prepare the spaces we inhabit to be more receptive to nonviolence, we can empower individuals to respond to crisis more mindfully and compassionately, and we can maintain more hope for healing and recovery from the traumas that crises and conflict can leave in their wake.

We each must do our part to create a culture of caring.

Can a stack of tips save the world? I know it’s not that simple. But a thoughtful, prepared, and supportive approach to the situations we face in life can help us navigate beyond crisis and toward connection. And connection should be the ultimate goal that we share as residents on this planet; we should all strive to deepen and sustain humanity and decency, or as we understand those values here at CPI—Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security. CPI training isn’t a magic wand that makes the world a better place, but it is a practical, meaningful process to equip yourself and your staff with the resilience, confidence, and hope to do just that.

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