The Art of De-escalation is to not escalate
It is great to see continued focus in client service industries, regulatory and enforcement, and personal development programming on excellent communication and de-escalation training. Many agencies, private and public sector, have added some form of training related to de-escalation to their "mandatory" list.
In many cases, the intention and effort to obtain the training for staff is well intended, but the focus can be mis-directed.
In our work environment we often ask ourselves, "what can I say if someone gets upset, angry, resistant, agitated or perhaps violent?" When we are really best to ask, How can we respond to situations so people don't get that way in the first place.
You see, there really aren't 7 surefire phrases to "de-escalate" someone. Why? Well, because people are, after all, unique people. How one person responds to particular stimuli can be totally different from the next person. The communicator of a message is also different from one to the next. The quality of communication can be directly related to a persons perception; skills; knowledge; ability; training; exposure; personality; comfort; in a particular situation. Thus, the dynamics between the receiver and the communicator can be as fluid as Yukon weather.
Add to that, the reality that each of us, within an interaction may view our roles in very different ways. What if we both think we are the communicator? What if we both think we are waiting for the other person to bring order and solutions to a situation? On top of all of that, with our unique styles and personalities, on a balance of a day, week, month we tend to be somewhat predictable. However, add a bad nights sleep, internal or external stressors, minor mood shifts, other normal life interventions that can adjust our personality slightly, and all of a sudden, our skill or our capacity to harness our 'normal' self and drop 7 key phrases as a silver bullet to a difficult situation is far more than anyone can really muster.
To further complicate the notion that any technique specific sequence could overcome the above realities of different personalities, skills, experiences etc...that can change on us due to circumstances and experiences that get a hold of humans from time to time, we then have an ever changing environment to contend with.
Imagine, creating a pyramid of terms that could un-mix that cocktail of our human experience.
The only one I know that came close to surviving the test of time was "A-la-peanut butter sandwiches" Alas, that too has fallen off with our attention to nut allergies.
So what is the trick, the magic wand, the ace in the hole? Truth is, there isn't one.
Instead of looking for a specific technique to de-escalating, pursue themes of what leads people to agitation, resistance, aggression, frustration, anger, hostility, and violence and seek to engage in situation management that won't lead us there in the first place.
People don't take too well to lessons on self control from the person who has helped them lose it in the first place. In other words, your talent for de-escalation someone, if YOU have escalated them has become severely compromised. Often, however, that element is not dealt with clearly enough in initial training. Perhaps instructors don't want to offend students by asking them...."Why did that situation get there in the first place.....did you contribute to it?"
Have you ever said to someone (perhaps your spouse) "ok, let's just calm down now" only to get the reply, "calm down....you piss me off and now you want me to calm down...."
And one more dry log gets added to the fire.......
Solution Oriented Situation Management teaches the 6 A's as THEMES of effective communication that deal with necessary elements of human nature and human biology to help us understand what makes a person act, or react a certain way. When we know WHAT makes people tick....and WHY someone may respond a certain way, we can be more likely to avoid prompting them in negative directions or (in situations beyond any of our own doing) we can ensure we don't take the conduct personally. These themes can survive the test of human dynamic, situational contexts, and unique environments. Why? Because this knowledge allows us to understand how to adapt to the moment, rather than inserting a methodical pre-determined sequence of steps. Sometimes they work...but when they don't ...what are you left with? Often a collision course with conflict and no exit ramp in sight.
You can do nothing about something you know nothing about. Awareness provides us the first step on our road trip toward knowing where we are going, how we are going to get there, when to start and when to stop and when to let someone else take the wheel.
Check in for more blogs on effective Situation Management.