Debriefing Techniques: How to Use Them for Prevention

January 17, 2017
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

Do you see the same stressful situations playing out again and again?

If you've wondered why you're not seeing progress or change, it could be that you're missing one important step. In this presentation, training expert Pam Roncone takes you on a deep dive into how to use debriefing techniques to develop consistency among your staff and strengthen your prevention efforts:

Why debriefing techniques matter

Debriefing can help you:

  • Create staff consistency
  • Learn from challenges and success
  • Create plans to make positive change
  • Deal with incidents more effectively next time
  • PREVENT a next time

Why staff consistency matters

There are a lot of things that staff consistency can do for you, including:

  • Remove uncertainty for staff about their job responsibilities
  • Build trust among staff
  • Promote teamwork

Consistency is also linked to success.

Your results show whether you're being consistent or not. And to be consistent, the first thing you need to do is make sure you're debriefing.

How debriefing techniques promote consistency

Does your organization currently debrief? If so, do you use it:

  • Always
  • Sometimes
  • Or never?

When you debrief — always and every time — you will see improvement. You'll stop doing the same things over and over again that don't work. And you'll start doing things consistently that do work.

To make this happen, use the fourth level of the Crisis Development ModelSM.

The CPI Crisis Development ModelSM

CPI's Crisis Development ModelSM represents a series of recognizable behavior levels that an individual may go through during a crisis moment. It matches each behavior level with corresponding staff attitudes and approaches to de-escalate the challenging behavior.

In a nutshell, it helps staff identify four behavior levels and corresponding responses. That is, it guides staff on which intervention to use and when.

The fourth behavior level is Tension Reduction. This is defined as “a decrease in physical and emotional energy,” and it usually follows a crisis.

The corresponding response to Tension Reduction is Therapeutic Rapport.

If you use Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, you likely use Therapeutic Rapport with your clients, patients, students, etc.

But do you use it with staff?

Always be sure to re-establish Therapeutic Rapport among staff! This will help you:

  • Create team consistency
  • Process events
  • Reduce tension
  • Problem-solve
  • Prevent recurrences

To do that, the CPI COPING ModelSM helps you dive into what's going on with staff.


Like all CPI models, the COPING Model℠ is a systematic framework for prevention. It's defined as: 

“a model that staff members can use to guide them through the process of establishing Therapeutic Rapport with an individual after a crisis incident. The COPING ModelSM can also be used to structure a staff debriefing.”

This model guides you to take six important steps after an emotional and/or physical crisis:

  1. Control
  2. Orient
  3. Patterns
  4. Investigate
  5. Negotiate
  6. Give

It helps you make sure that:

  • Staff know and follow your policies and procedures
  • Staff's responses during a crisis are consistent with the training you give them
  • Staff's responses are consistent with your organization's philosophy
  • Staff's responses are consistent with the behaviors that are displayed during an incident

So how do you use this debriefing model to promote staff consistency?

Group of adults sitting and talking in a circle

Here's Level One on how to break it down when you're using debriefing techniques:

1. Control: This is where you ensure that staff have regained physical and emotional control.

  • Are staff ready to discuss what happened?
  • What went well?
  • What can be done differently in the future?

2. Orient: This is where you orient yourself to the basic facts of the incident. Establish what happened, be nonjudgmental, and listen to the perspective of every person who was involved.

  • What happened?
  • Who was involved?
  • When did they get there?
  • What was each person's response during the situation?

3. Patterns: This is where you look for patterns in causes and responses.

  • What trends did each person observe?
  • Are there things that seem to have caused the individual's behavior?
  • Do staff have Precipitating Factors at play as well?
  • If so, what are they?

4. Investigate: This is where you figure out what needs to change.

  • Brainstorm options of what might be done differently next time.
  • Are there things you can do to prevent the situation from reoccurring at all?
  • How can you strengthen or improve individual and team responses?
  • What resources do you have available?
  • What skills can team members practice?

5. Negotiate: This is where you agree on what changes and improvements to make.

  • Make a commitment to change.
  • Agree on how to respond in the future.

6. Give: This is where you offer each other support and encouragement.

  • Be sure to express trust, confidence, and respect for your colleagues.  

Crisis Response Planning Checklist

Download this free guide, with steps to help your organization develop a calm and orderly response to a host of crisis situations.


Diving deep

In order to truly promote staff consistency, you need to go even deeper with the COPING ModelSM. Layer Two of debriefing looks like this:

1. Control: Structure your internal environment for change.

If you've already begun to create change, that's fantastic! If you're just beginning the journey, that's great too. In both cases, as you move forward, not only do you need to have that culture shift taking place, you need to sustain a culture that maintains the changes you're making.

2. Orient: This is the action for change.

Orient each other to what you're going to do next time. As you progress with this, you'll start to see attitude changes, because you're creating that consistency within your organization. You'll start to see staff members being more on the same page during a response. Always be sure to review your end goals, because that's how staff are going to know what you're all working together to accomplish. Be sure to touch base with reminders.

3. Patterns: Record and track the accomplishments and progress that staff make.

As you achieve benchmarks, be sure to celebrate your progress. Also provide staff with opportunities to practice. Help them get used to recognizing early warning signs when they're getting off track, and where their Precipitating Factors start to play in.


Maybe a staff member is having a particularly bad day. When they recognize that, it can be an early warning sign that they might not respond in the way that you're hoping they would.

Yet this recognition is an excellent opportunity for that staff member to know when it's time to let a fellow team member handle something in their place. It's about knowing your limits — especially when your job is difficult — and working together to support one another.

4. Investigate: Take a look at your communication system.

It's also vital to ensure that your staff are getting training opportunities. We talk a lot in the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program about training not being a one-and-done deal — that practice, rehearsals, and drills need to continue in order for staff to maintain their skills in a safe and effective way.

This goes back to consistency: Training and refreshers help staff respond appropriately and know exactly what they need to do when they step into a situation.

And with your communication, there must be a feedback loop. Make sure staff are seeing and hearing how things are going. Make sure they're seeing and hearing how those changes are taking place.

  • How are staff members communicating with each other?
  • How is that communication happening — in a moment of crisis, after a moment of crisis, and before a moment of crisis?
  • Is it helping that the communication is taking place?

5. Negotiate: Negotiate that all of this is an ongoing process.

Nothing is ever perfect. Even with as hard as we try, nothing is ever perfect. Everything is an ongoing process. So negotiate that ongoing process, and continue to visit it consistently.

6. Give: Provide support.

Everyone wants to have a good day at work. Especially when you face difficulties, especially when you deal with problems that sometimes seem unsolvable, at the end of the day (and throughout!), we all want to feel safe, successful, and good.

To help with this, make sure:

  • That the team owns the vision of where they want to be.
  • That you consistently provide support for your plan.
  • That you're clear about what the support is going to be and what it's going to look like.  

As you're making changes and seeing improvements — and seeing more consistent responses through that debriefing process — make sure to give staff affirmation of their success. Positive rewards will help them see and recognize that those changes took place.


There are many reasons why organizations don't debrief.

Time is a huge factor. You may feel like you don't have time to sit down and discuss an incident.

Some organizations will look at an incident and think, “It was only a verbal incident, so there's no reason to debrief.”

And from some organizations, what we hear is that no one requires staff to debrief.

If you don't require it, you don't make the time, and you debrief only the most serious incidents, you'll have a hard time helping staff use those consistent responses.

It will be much more difficult to ensure that your policies and procedures are being followed. It will also be very difficult for you to know whether a response was consistent with your training, your philosophy, and the behaviors that you're dealing with.

Unless you take the time to debrief every time, to look at the incidents, to look at how staff responded and what you can do differently, nothing will change. You'll keep seeing the same problems over and over.

Don't expect change to take place unless you make it happen!

Steps to success

To achieve that consistency, help and support staff.

  • Recognize the need for improvement.
  • Commit to change.
  • Help staff understand the importance of creating a consistent environment.
  • Work through obstacles.
  • Make time.

Determine when and where debriefing will take place, and make it part of a policy. Ensure that documentation is a part of your process too.

Be sure to lead change from the top down. It's tough for change to stick from the bottom up. It can happen, but you need upper management, because when they understand the importance of debriefing, they can help make sure that it's a requirement — and that the time is available.

Be prepared for small steps backward and unanticipated barriers, but work through them and keep moving forward! With debriefing techniques, you can create consistency — and prevent situations from occurring over and over.

Schedule a Consultation

Learn how CPI’s training programs can benefit your organization.

Let's Connect