De-escalation Techniques

Ambulance Tasmania

De-escalation Techniques

picture of angry personIf you encounter someone who is angry or upset the following verbal de-escalation techniques may help you to calm them down.

There are two important concepts to keep in mind:

  • Reasoning with an enraged person is not possible. Your only objective should be to reduce the level of arousal so that discussion becomes possible.
  • We are all driven to fight, flight or freeze when scared. However, to calm down someone who is angry or upset you must appear calm yourself ... even if you aren't.

10 things you can do

  1. Appear calm, centred and self-assured ... even though you might not feel that way!
  2. Remember you are not trying to do anything except calm the person down
  3. Use a modulated, low and monotonous tone of voice
  4. Treat the person with dignity and respect; ignore insults and don't be judgemental
  5. Allow extra physical space between you – about four times your usual distance
  6. Empathise with feelings but not with the behaviour (eg "I understand that you are upset, but it is not okay for you to get in the way”)
  7. Ask questions like “Help me to understand what you are upset about …” rather than "how are you feeling?"
  8. Suggest simple alternatives eg "Let's move over there where we can see better"
  9. Give choices where possible in which both alternatives are positive and safe (e.g. “Would you like me to take you to a taxi so you can go to the hospital and be there with your friend, or would you prefer to go home first?”)
  10. Stay safe and know you have the choice to leave at any time.

10 things to avoid

  1. Don't rush in; take a few moments to assess the situation, look at the person's body language, listen to their tone of voice and make a plan (including how to get away if things get out of hand)
  2. Don't get loud or try to yell over a screaming person
  3. Don't ask how a person is feeling or try to interpret their feelings
  4. Don't respond to abusive questions ... just ignore them
  5. DO NOT SMILE ... this could be misinterpreted as mockery
  6. Do not touch, even though touching may seem appropriate and usual in your peer group; agitated people may misinterpret physical contact as hostile or threatening
  7. Do not argue or try to convince ... give choices, not explanations
  8. Keep your hands out of your pockets, up and available to protect yourself
  9. Don't point or shake your finger
  10. Avoid constant eye contact; allow the person to break their gaze and look away

Trust your instincts; if your efforts to de-escalate the situation aren't working ... STOP!

You will know within 2 or 3 minutes if you are making a difference. If the person isn't calming down, won't leave on their own or with you, call for help or leave yourself.

There is nothing magic about talking someone down from a highly agitated state. You are transferring your sense of calm by taking a genuine interest in what the person is trying to tell you.  Show them you are listening and tell them firmly and respectfully what you want them to do.

If at any time the person threatens to harm themselves or others, contact the police on ‘000’.