Ten Critical De-Escalation Skills
Being able to de-escalate one's own and the anger of others
is an important skill to have in business. Hopefully, this
is not something the reader deals with on a regular basis
but unfortunately most people in business encounter either
their own anger or the anger of others more frequently than
they would like.
In order to be successful at de-escalating anger, a person
must understand and become skillful in the following areas.
1. Recognize that anger is a choice of a wide range of
behaviors that could be used to get what one needs in a situation.
It is a behavior that has benefit for its user. Anger can
get people the attention they need, help them escape things
they don't want to do, help them gain control over another
person or situation, or pump them up when they are feeling
small and insignificant.
2. The person interacting with the angry person must identify
his or her own emotion at any given point in time. If
the helping person is also experiencing anger, then that person
will not be very effective assisting others to manage theirs.
3. When potential interventionists are experiencing anger,
they must be able to change what they are doing or thinking
to get their emotions under control or seek the assistance
they will need to manage the situation.
4. Perform a quick self-assessment. A potential helper
must ask the following questions. Can I avoid criticizing
and finding fault with the angry person? Can I avoid being
judgmental? Can I keep from trying to control the other person
into doing something he or she doesn't want to do? Can I keep
myself removed from the conflict? Can I believe that the people
using anger have the right to make decisions and choices about
how they meet their needs and that they have within them the
ability to make those decisions? Can I try to see the situation
from the angry person's point of view and understand what
need or needs he or she is trying to satisfy? And finally,
can I remember that my job is to place the healing of relationships
as my primary concern?
If the listener can't answer these questions in the affirmative,
then he or she will need assistance in managing the person
who is expressing anger.
5. Recognize early warning signs. Many incidents of
anger could be prevented if those who are around a person
about to become angry notice the subtle change in the person's
behavior. Quiet people may become agitated; while louder,
more outgoing people generally become quiet and introspective.
Paying attention to these subtle changes and simply commenting
on the change could help the individual talk about things
so he or she wouldn't have to become angry.
Prevention goes a long way. However, there still will be times
when you don't notice the early warning signs or when your
first encounter with the person occurs when they are already
in an angry state.
Also, it's possible that you will do everything right in this
prevention phase and angry people will still choose anger
as their best chance for getting what they want. When any
of these situations occur, the listener will need to employ
one or all of the five de-escalation skills.
6. Active listening is the process of really attempting
to hear, acknowledge and understand what a person is saying.
It is a genuine attempt to put oneself in the other person's
situation. More than anything, this involves LISTENING! Listening
means attending not only to the words the other person is
saying but also the underlying emotion, as well as, the accompanying
By simply providing a sounding board and a willing ear, a
person's anger can be dissipated.
7. Acknowledgement occurs when the listener is attempting
to sense the emotion underlying the words a person is using
and then comments on that emotion. The person may say
something like, "You sound really angry right now!" By acknowledging
and really trying to understand what the angry person is feeling,
that person becomes able to release a lot of the aggression.
8. Agreeing---often when people are angry about something,
there is at least 2 % truth in what they are saying. When
attempting to diffuse someone's anger, it is important to
find that 2 % of truth and agree with it.
When someone is angry and the listener attempts to reason
with the person, his or her efforts will be largely ineffective.
When the listener agrees with the 2% of truth in the angry
person's tirade, he or she takes away the resistance and consequently
eliminates the fuel for the fire.
9. Apologizing is a good de-escalation skill. I'm not
talking about apologizing for an imaginary wrong. I am talking
about sincerely apologizing for anything in the situation
that was unjust. It's simply a statement acknowledging that
something occurred that wasn't right or fair.
This can have the effect of letting angry people know that
the listener is sincerely sorry for what they are going through
and they may cease to direct their anger at the person attempting
10. Inviting criticism is the final of the de-escalation skills.
In this instance the listener would simply ask the angry person
to voice his or her criticism of the listener or the situation.
The person intervening might say something like, "Go ahead.
Tell me everything that has you upset. Don't hold anything
back. I want to hear everything you are angry about."
This invitation will sometimes temporarily intensify the angry
emotion but if the listener continues to encourage the person
to vent his or her anger and frustration, eventually, the
angry person runs out of complaints. Just let the angry person
vent until the anger is spent.
Even when using the above ten skills, there may be a rare
occasion when the listener is unsuccessful in the attempts
to decrease the other person's anger. The listener's safety
should be the primary concern. The listener should not get
between the angry person and his or her only means of escape
and shouldn't allow the angry person to block the listener's
only means of escape.
Anyone intervening in an emotionally charged situation should
always have a plan or an established way to get help if needed
and remember to always stay calm. An angry person is generally
someone capable of getting out of control. When out of control
people sense they are intimidating and scaring others, it
can increase their sense of power and control, resulting in
an escalation of the situation. The helpers must stay calm
and act as if they are in control of themselves and the situation.
Kim Olver has over 20 years experience in staff development
and supervision and is an expert in leadership skills, staff
relationships and diversity. Certified in reality therapy/choice
theory/lead management/quality school concepts, she works
with counselors, schools and businesses to apply these ideas.