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Verbal de-escalation: Closing the deal

If one is to successfully de-escalate a situation it is important to understand where the other person is coming from

In Part 1, we discussed the need to present a calm demeanor, eliminate unnecessary conflict, establish a designated speaker, and maintain your guard. Now we will explore the importance of listening and learn how to close the deal.

Practice active listening
Someone once said that people don’t listen; they wait for an opportunity to interrupt. Quite often we are speaking over the subject, missing key information and giving off the impression that we’re not interested in hearing his perspective.

If one is to successfully de-escalate a situation it is important to understand where the other person is coming from. Many of these individuals just want to be heard. Ask open ended questions like, “What is the matter?” Give them an opportunity to explain the situation. Rephrase their answer as you understand it. This provides the subject an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding and demonstrates your interest in resolving the problem. If you don’t understand, explain why you are confused. This encourages the subject to rephrase and expand his statement. You may gain valuable information which can be used to mitigate the situation.

Listen to what the crazy guy is saying
It is something I tell the students in my Excited Delirium class. I don’t care how out of their mind someone is, listen to them. Too often people discount the ranting of a lunatic as nothing more than gibberish. Just because someone is rambling nonsensically it doesn’t mean that he might not provide some valuable information. The location of a weapon, an underlying medical condition, or the type of drug ingested, are just a few of the things that could be communicated.

I am reminded of an incident involving an inmate who was ranting psychotically in an isolation cell. He needed to be dressed out into jail issued clothing but was entirely uncooperative. He was refusing to give up his street clothes and it appeared as though we would have to send officers into the cell to forcibly remove his clothing. I took a moment to speak with him. I asked him if he would like to get to a bed and he said yes.

I explained to him that in order to get him to a bed I would need to get his street clothes from him. He said that he didn’t want his clothes to go into the bag; he said that they would die. I asked him why he thought his clothes would die. He said that they couldn’t breathe in the plastic bag. So I asked him if we poked holes in the bag if he would be alright with that and he happily gave us his clothes. By addressing the inmate’s concerns I was able to avoid a physical confrontation without compromising our authority. And no, I didn’t really poke holes in the bag.

Sell it
Here is where your leadership skills come into play. The goal here isn’t to come to a compromise but to convince the subject that he wants to do things your way. Dwight D. Eisenhower said “leadership is getting others to do something you want done because they want to do it”. Verbal de-escalation is the means by which we convince others that they want to do what we are asking of them. In the instance above I explained to the inmate what was required of him, why it had to be done and why it was in his best interest. By explaining what we want done, why we want it done, and how doing so will benefit our subject he is more likely to comply.

In conclusion
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m endorsing a “kinder, gentler” approach. Not every situation can be resolved through the use of verbal de-escalation, however; when a situation presents itself which may be resolved without resorting to physical force, it behooves us to capitalize upon the opportunity. I would much rather spend 10 minutes talking a subject into doing what I want rather than jeopardizing the safety of my staff, risking injury to the individual and generating a copious amount of paperwork in the process. In this business the number one priority is for everyone to go home safe, and the practice of verbal de-escalation increases the likelihood of that occurring.

Sgt. Christopher Porché has been employed with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office since 2005. He began his career assigned to the famous Tent City Jail. After two and a half years under the Phoenix sun he was transferred to the Central Intake Division where he proceeded to climb the ranks. In 2010 he was appointed as a Field Training Officer, and in 2011 he received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant.