De-escalation training is easy to say, but harder to execute. However, the science is clear that evidence-based de-escalation techniques are worth the effort to reduce the need to use force by law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and other frontline workers, leading to better situational outcomes and safer communities. De-escalation is more than just talking someone down; it encapsulates a variety of techniques, including verbal and non-verbal, that need to be practiced and honed to increase the positive effects. Let’s take a look at what de-escalation training entails and examine the main techniques that are used.

Evidence-based de-escalation training

Evidence-based de-escalation training focuses on scientific analysis on what de-escalation techniques work, rather than assumptions. A training course or program is considered evidence-based if it utilizes research from peer-reviewed publications with high internal and external validity that shows statistically significant positive changes in frontline worker or law enforcement and public interactions from implementing their findings (Krameddine, 2017). In other words, instead of training based on anecdotes or feelings, evidence-based training uses real data that is backed up by repeatable results.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

Your tone of voice, the words you choose, and your non-verbal actions like body language, kinesics (body movements and gestures), and proxemics (how close you are to someone else – “personal space”) should all be considered during any public encounter. Verbal and non-verbal communication have a symbiotic relationship with each other, where both forms of communication showcase how the person is thinking and feeling towards a situation.

Verbal communication is relatively straightforward; thinking before you speak and responding with an assertive, but a patient tone and using polite language is standard for de-escalation. Non-verbal communication is a bit more difficult in that some of it is unconscious, and in order to control it, you need to be mindful of your personal tendencies and behaviors and be prepared to change them for certain situations. For instance, one study reveals that non-verbal communication is foundational, even more than verbal communication, in determining a positive or negative impression between law enforcement and suspects (Otu, 2015).

Imagine this scenario: you’re out partying with some friends at a well-known bar in your city or town, and the festivities continue long into the night. At some point, you all decide to take a walk, admiring the sights and sounds of a weekend nightlife. At some point along your walk, you see a tall fence in front of a park and proudly declare to your friends that you can scale it, no problem. As you climb, what you don’t know is that the other side of the fence is not a public park, but private property. Nearing the top, you hear the familiar sound of police sirens, and turn your head to be greeted with a sea of flashing red and blue. Struggling to get down, you finally land on your feet – only to be greeted head-on with a waiting police officer.

 Considering this scenario, which version of the officer below would you rather deal with?
Officer with crossed arms, shows unwillingness
Officer with open arms, shows willingness

It’s a subtle difference, but crossed arms send a “closed” message, which could be interpreted as an unwillingness to hear out the situation. Uncrossed arms, however, could indicate that at least the officer is willing to talk. This small difference in body language sets the tone for the interaction – before any words are even spoken between you and the officer.

Empathy

Being able to recognize the feelings that someone else is experiencing in a given situation and imagining yourself reacting in a similar way is empathy. In other words, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and being able to experience a situation from their perspective.

In a recent study on the need for empathetic verbal de-escalation skills in healthcare workers, the results found that basically, every healthcare worker experiences some form of aggression or violence at work, sometimes daily. Unfortunately, staff also report not being adequately trained or equipped to handle these situations effectively. When training was implemented, with a specific focus on empathy, the results were overwhelmingly positive.

Empathy is important for de-escalation because the more that you can understand why someone is acting in a certain way, the more you will be able to see the larger reasons surrounding their behavior and act accordingly.

Prevention and non-escalation

Techniques in prevention and non-escalation are focused on being aware of what you are saying in a given situation and being able to deflect rude or insulting phrases. In other words, avoiding escalation by explaining yourself and not using phrases that can escalate the situation, like “calm down”, “relax”, or “listen”. For instance, before handcuffing and detaining a suspect, first, explain that you need to handcuff them for safety reasons. If the situation is escalated despite your efforts, the willingness to apologize goes a long way in de-escalation.

Environmental

Being aware of the environment around you is beneficial for keeping yourself and others safe. Good situational awareness means that you can make better judgement calls about the actions you take. For instance, if you’re a lone police officer and you find yourself in a situation where you are faced with a group of violent individuals. In this instance, you’ll likely decide to hang back in an inconspicuous area while you wait for backup.

Long-term support

In any situation where it is clear that the person or people you are dealing with need further support, it’s important that every effort is made to provide it to them. By providing support, you’re reducing the chance that the incident reoccurs. This means that you’re looking at the big picture, and potentially removing the reasons behind why that person (or people) were involved in a negative situation in the first place.

The importance of evidence-based de-escalation training

The research is clear that evidence-based de-escalation training is the most effective method for reducing violent interactions between frontline workers and the public. The goal in any interaction is that both parties leave with a sense that it went as positively as possible, and evidence-based de-escalation training gives it the best chance of doing so.

Evidence-based de-escalation training is within your reach. Begin your training today.

Sources:

Krameddine, Y. Expert Report for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. De-escalation Training: Scientific Review and Recommendations (in press). In Andersen, J.P., Di Nota, P.M., Poplawski, S., Pitel, M., Zurowski, J., and Azmi, P. (2017). The Science Behind De-escalation and Use of Force Decision-Making: Policy Recommendations for Police Training. Submitted to Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, June 2017.

Otu, Noel. Decoding nonverbal communication in law enforcement [online]. Salus Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2015: 1-16. Availability: <https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=264350093655814;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 2202-5677. [cited 22 Sep 20].

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