Awareness of potentially violent situations is a large part of ensuring your safety. Anticipating potential conflict is important for preparedness, and there are several cues to be mindful of as a situation unfolds.
However, simply recognizing when a situation is escalating toward violence is not enough. Learning and practicing de-escalation techniques may be the key to your survival.
In this listicle, we’ll explore essential elements of a winning de-escalation program that can help someone who is facing a violent situation survive.
1. Have a plan in place before you even need it.
Practicing potential scenarios ahead of time will give you confidence in handling a real situation. Training will kick in when needed. I also recommend using a team approach for your plan, as it’s easier to maintain professionalism when support is nearby. Pre-designate a location or two that could be used to “shelter in place” in the event that you & others may need to hide and/or keep another aggressive person out. Make sure to determine at what points & circumstances notification to law enforcement or security will be made.
2. Practice your plan.
Perform tabletop exercises of various scenarios, like active shooter/aggressor, verbally threatening client or vagrant, employee being terminated, and visit by an unruly former significant other.
3. Awareness is a key factor in your safety. It is important that we take the time to look, listen, feel, and sometimes smell.
Being aware is a choice that requires active concentration.
- Other people: you may need to move the agitated person to a more private setting to allow for the best outcome.
- Objects: chairs, tables, scissors, staplers, coffee mugs, flasks – that can be picked up & thrown or used as a weapon. Think about what objects might afford you a protective or defensive posture. A pad folio, laptop or heavy book may serve as a defensive shield. A heavy water bottle, pen or set of keys might be used as a last resort weapon.
- Clothing & accessories: necklaces, earrings, lanyards – that are hanging and can be pulled
- Exits: give yourself access to an exit. Also, take note of whether you are potentially blocking the aggressor so that they are made to feel trapped.
- Calm yourself before interacting with the aggressor and remain calm throughout (mental conditioning). -
- Take a deep breath (or a few)
- Self-talk: using positive thoughts like, “I can handle this” or “I know what to do.”
- Remain calm, rational & professional. While you can’t control the other person’s behavior, how you respond can directly impact the outcome of the situation.
4. During the conflict, appear calm & self-assured, even if you don’t feel like it.
Look as non-threatening as possible and keep your tone and body language neutral. Maintain a neutral facial expression. Place your hands in front of your body in an open and relaxed position and avoid finger pointing and excessive gesturing. Maintain limited eye contact and be at the same eye level if possible. Do not roll your eyes or shrug your shoulders. Try to ground yourself; avoid pacing, fidgeting, or shifting your weight.
5. Establish & maintain rapport.
How you start a conversation can help you establish rapport. First, identify yourself and your role. Then, explain the process and procedures in plain terms. Listen with empathy and without judgement; showing empathy is key. People respond positively to their own name, so use the person’s name when appropriate. Give the person undivided attention and acknowledge their concerns or feelings of helplessness or frustration. Focus on their feelings, not just facts. Finally, shift the conversation positively to the future and offer to work together to solve the problem.
6. After the conflict, call emergency services as needed, document the incident, and check in with staff.
Determine if law enforcement, emergency medical assistance or EAP should be called. Follow existing protocols for documenting & reporting the incident. Make sure to also debrief coworkers, as talking about the situation can not only relieve stress, but also prompt planning for future incidents. You can also discuss lessons learned from this conflict.
Brian Ishikawa, CPP, is a leader in the security field with over thirty years of experience in senior and executive roles in Hawaii and is well-versed in managing complex white collar crime investigations and providing consultation on physical security and protective strategies. He currently holds the position as Senior Vice President and Director of Corporate Security for Bank of Hawaii Corporation. He is responsible for the overall physical protection of the Bank’s assets and investigation activities.