Prevention goes a long way. However, there will still be times when
you don’t notice the early warning signs or when your first encounter
with the person occurs when they are already in an angry state.
Also, it’s possible that you will do everything right in the prevention phase and angry people will still choose anger as their best chance for getting what they want. When any of these situations occur, the listener will need to employ one or all of the five de-escalation skills.
1. Active listening is the process of really attempting to hear, acknowledge and understand what a person is saying. It is a genuine attempt to put oneself in the other person’s situation. More than anything, this involves LISTENING! Listening means attending not only to the words the other person is saying but also the underlying emotion, as well as, the accompanying body language.
By simply providing a sounding board and a willing ear, a person’s anger can be dissipated.
2. Acknowledgment occurs when the listener is attempting to sense the emotion underlying the words a person is using and then comments on that emotion. The person may say something like, “You sound really angry right now!” By acknowledging and really trying to understand what the angry person is feeling, that person becomes able to release a lot of the aggression.
3. Agreeing--often when people are angry about something, there is at least 2 % truth in what they are saying. When attempting to diffuse someone’s anger, it is important to find that 2 % of truth and agree with it.
When someone is angry and the listener attempts to reason with the person, his or her efforts will be largely ineffective. When the listener agrees with the 2% of truth in the angry person’s tirade, he or she takes away the resistance and consequently eliminates the fuel for the fire.
4. Apologizing is a good de-escalation skill. I’m not talking about apologizing for an imaginary wrong. I am talking about sincerely apologizing for anything in the situation that was unjust. It’s simply a statement acknowledging that something occurred that wasn’t right or fair.
This can have the effect of letting angry people know that the listener is sincerely sorry for what they are going through and they may cease to direct their anger at the person attempting to help.
5. Inviting criticism is the final of the de-escalation skills. In this instance the listener would simply ask the angry person to voice his or her criticism of the listener or the situation. The person intervening might say something like, “Go ahead. Tell me everything that has you upset. Don’t hold anything back. I want to hear everything you are angry about.”
This invitation will sometimes temporarily intensify the angry emotion but if the listener continues to encourage the person to vent his or her anger and frustration, eventually, the angry person runs out of complaints. Just let the angry person vent until the anger is spent.
Even when using the above skills, there may be a rare occasion when the listener is unsuccessful in the attempts to decrease the other person’s anger. The listener’s safety should be the primary concern. The listener should not get between the angry person and his or her only means of escape and shouldn’t allow the angry person to block the listener’s only means of escape.
Anyone intervening in an emotionally charged situation should always have a plan or an established way to get help if needed and remember to always stay calm. An angry person is generally someone capable of getting out of control. When out of control people sense they are intimidating and scaring others, it can increase their sense of power and control, resulting in an escalation of the situation. The helpers must stay calm and act as if they are in control of themselves and the situation.
If you would like further information on De-Escalation Skills, then click here. We offer a tip sheet and a more extensive e-course if you'd like to study these ideas in greater depth.