Verbal Deescalation

Protestors rally in reaction to the announcement of homicide charges towards police officers in connection with the April 12th death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015, in Baltimore, Md.

Lets talk about a technique called Verbal De-Escalation. This is a skill that any journalist can use to help calm an upset person that they may encounter. This skill has is used by mental health workers and public safety officials. This is truly an art form and takes practice.

There are some key points though that you may use when encountering someone who is hostile towards you or your colleagues. The key is to let them think they win a confrontation.

Tip 1: Get the name of the person who you are speaking with. People respond favorably to their own name. It also makes the interaction more personal. Ask for the persons name early on and use it throughout.

Tip 2: Active Listening: Clarify, paraphrase and open-ended questions help to ensure that the person is aware you have understand their issues completely. This helps to lower frustration levels as they feel they have “got it off their chest”.

Tip 3: Slow down, don’t judge: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict. Even if you do not agree with the person, expressing and reflecting why that person feels a particular way will help resolve the conflict. Give them your FULL attention and show basic respect.

Tip 4: Get them to say YES: It is hard for someone to stay mad at you if they agree with you. We do this by asking Q’s and providing a summary during the chat to help confirm you get their point. “So you are unhappy about ** because of **, so i get this clear, is that correct?”

Tip 5: NEVER say  “Calm Down”. These words during a verbal conflict, do not work! Never in the history of “Calm Down” has anyone ever calmed down.

Tip 6: Show you care, show empathy!: We need to show compassion and empathy and give the conflict our full attention. Don’t make rash judgements and work through the process.

All that being said. This takes lots of practice and you should be ready incase this interaction turns physical.

Look for body language WARNING SIGNS like; 

1) person clenching his or her fists or tightening and relaxing their jaw.

2) Sudden change in body language or tone used during a conversation.

3) The person starts pacing or fidgeting.

4) Change in type of eye contact.

5)The dominance “Rooster Stance” – chest protruding out more and arms more away from the body.

Wrapping this up, Remember the five keys points:

  1. give the person undivided attention;
  2. be nonjudgmental;
  3. focus on the person’s feelings, not just the facts;
  4. allow silence; and
  5. use restatement to clarify messages.