Home‎ > ‎Beast Mode Blog‎ > ‎

The Art Of De-Escalation

posted Jun 5, 2011, 5:02 PM by Robb Buckland   [ updated Jun 6, 2011, 3:03 PM ]


Words of wisdom for you -- always avoid getting into a physical altercation if it’s possible. When a confrontation does occur, there are times when it’s actually possible to “de-escalate” the situation with some simple techniques (de-escalation refers to lowering the “tension” to the point of avoiding a fight).
The Art Of De-Escalation

  The bad news ................. "De-escalation" techniques are ineffective against anyone but an “Emotionally Hijacked” individual (remember him or her ... that’s the pissed off guy or girl who’s been politely asked to seek out anger management classes. We refered to this type in a previous blog ,and  my students know this person as 'Black Tinkerbell' or the girl whos' name we do not speak.).

Using “de-escalation” techniques on the wrong type of adversary – i.e. a bully or predator -- may actually burn up the few precious seconds you’ve got to act decisively. So you want to be careful with this.
   The biggest hurdles to winning a fight is internal dialog,or hesitation. The last thing you should do when facing a dangerous opponent is to spend time pondering whether you can “negotiate” your way out of a fight.. If you’re certain that your opponent is an Emotionally Hijacked individual,  use the following de-escalation techniques.

   In de-escalation it’s important that you remain calm. Your adversary will be yelling, cursing, possibly threatening you, but again, if you’re certain he’s simply emotionally hijacked because he feels he has been “wronged” by you, then simply remain calm. Do not buy into this person’s emotions and yell back to defend your point of view no matter how right you may think you are.

Instead, try and understand why this person is so upset THEN try to be understood. You should follow these 4 steps.
(1)  Get them Talking
(2)  Keep them Talking
(3)  Summarize with Feeling
(4)  Acknowledge and Respond
Get them Talking:
  The Emotionally Hijacked individual is irrational, so putting up a defensive argument, will only escalate the situation. You’re dealing with a kind of person who handles problems on an emotional level – much like a child. Yes, they may have truly been wronged, but instead of dealing with it rationally like a normal adult, they will explode in an emotional tantrum. Dealing with a child inside a full grown persons body can be scary – but it can be done.
  • First off, a person who is talking (or yelling) is a person who hasn’t made up their mind about hitting you yet. They are simply venting and you should be listening. You should always look for your open targets while maintaining distance. Do not let them get into striking range. If they do, remember to establish a lead, your  “hands-up” surrender position (hands up, open, relaxed, and palms forward – gesturing, “I don’t want any trouble”, or "take my wallet just let me keep the pictures of my wife and kids"). This acts as a early trigger, protection from a haymaker, and has your hands in a “fight-ready” position or what we refer to as the neutral punching guard.



  • Once you get this person talking you must resist the temptation to respond to things they say, even if you believe they are absolutely wrong. Let them say what they gotta say and remain silent, while showing that you are listening.


  • Remain neutral, don’t agree, disagree, interrupt or argue


Keep them Talking:

   A person who stops talking (or ranting) is most likely engaged in an internal dialogue about attacking you. So if the talking stops, initiating more dialogue will allow your opponent to vent, lessening the chances you’ll be hit, and ultimately de-escalating the situation.


  • Encourage the other person to clarify and elaborate. This not only keeps them talking (which keeps them from fighting), but shows that you are listening. It may also help your opponent clarify his own thinking. He just may think “man... am I being an idiot”. But then again... he may not.
  • Directly tell him to keep talking: “Tell me more about it,” “go on,” or “really”. DO NOT challenge his thinking at this point, (“how could you have thought that?”)


  •  This will only get him more angry.
  • Remain non-committal, using, ‘uh-huh”, “I see”, etc.


Summarize with Feeling
After the person “runs out of steam,” you should rephrase, in your own words, your understanding of what this person just told you. This is a delicate process and so there’s some definite rules you’ll want to stick to.
  • Summarize, but DO NOT parrot back exactly what they said – this may just irritate them.


  • Reflect their feelings in your summary. This shows that you understand what they said and recognize how they are feeling emotionally. “Okay... you’re mad because I scratched your Harley... and you’re angry because it’s your mom’s, I understand.”
  • Never say: “I know how you feel”  This is a bomb phrase, because your adversary is not interested relating with you – he only wants to be understood.


  • Be sincere – or at least act sincere.


Acknowledge and Respond

  Once you get verification (verbal or nonverbal) that you understand their position correctly, then you can respond with your own message.

  “I really do understand that you care a lot about your girlfriend and are protective of her. I also understand that you are angry that I was looking at her, but I want you to know that I wasn’t looking to challenge you. You’re a lucky man to have a beautiful girlfriend and I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

  “I understand that you thought I cut you off on purpose, and I would be pissed off too if I thought someone did that to me on purpose. But, it wasn’t on purpose; I just wasn’t paying attention, my apologies.”

  Okay... so far it seems we’re bowing down to this jerk and doing everything we can to look like a wimp. But remember, you are not “submitting” to this emotionally hijacked person, you are simply remaining calm and allowing the emotional outburst to pass. It’s alot better than a fight that can wind up with someone in a hospital, jail, or the morgue.

  But -- as I’ve said -- the predator and the bully have other motivations for confronting you than the Emotionally Hijacked. The bully is trying to protect or establish his “social rank” (whereas only total submission by you will work), and the predator has something tangible to gain by attacking you.

Think of it like this: if you were about to be attacked by some punk looking for “initiation rights” into a gang – could you “de-escalate” the situation? Could you talk him out of joining that gang? I doubt even Montel Williams could do that. In fact, using de-escalation techniques on this kind of character may actually encourage him onward as he now sees you as a weakling who won’t fight back.

   Even a flawless execution of these de-escalation techniques on an Emotionally Hijacked person may not work. You just won’t talk your way out of a physical confrontation if he’s made up his mind to fight you. Always protect yourself in the following manner
Keep your distance:

    Even if things get ugly, maintaining distance between you and your adversary gives you a little time to recognize that things are turning ugly. Like the “hands-up” technique mentioned earlier, distance is a forward trigger. If he tries to close the distance after you establish an appropriate boundary, then you either move in for the attack or flee.


  • Show confidence, not fear or aggression in your voice and body language.


  • You must discern whether or not he is venting or “building up.” Do Not fall into the assumption that “okay, he’s venting... I’ll just give him time to express his emotions. You must determine whether or not he is actually venting. He may be trying to psych himself up enough to fight you. This is where controling distance helps you. Your adversary might be angry and yelling and walking toward you. You maintain distance and tell him to “stop right there... we can talk from here.” If he stops and yells, then he is blowing off steam. However, if he ignores reasonable request, then its GAME ON !!!


  • Always have an escape route. Do not get yourself cornered.You are simply trying to avoid a fight. By getting cornered you have put yourself in a position where if the de-escalation doesn’t work you MUST fight. Always keep the option open, of simply running away. Sprinting is great for your cardiovascular system – and oh... it’ll keep you out of jail too.


Act Alpha and avoid physical combat before it begins