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October 13, 2023

5 Strategies for Meaningful De-Escalation

Developing effective de-escalation supports to reduce risk and the need for restrictive practices.

The Health and Safety Executive reports there were 389,000 reported threats of violence at work in 2019/2020. We have all been in circumstances at work, and elsewhere, where we have needed to de-escalate a situation to prevent it from becoming more risky or serious; to calm things down.

But what did we do and how did we do it? And are there opportunities to improve what we already do to further build our confidence? These five strategies can help you make de-escalation more meaningful in your setting.

1: Get the right balance between reactive and positive strategies

Lots of training devotes more time and energy to the reactive strategies and restrictive practices for reducing conflict and managing violence and aggression, often because this is the most contentious part of a training event, and needs to be safe and well-rehearsed.

Conversely, the likelihood of needing to use a restrictive practice is dramatically reduced if we spend more time on the positive behaviour strategies. We become more confident and competent in how to de-escalate a situation with the many tools in our kit.

Training needs to look at the specifics of de-escalation and develop our understanding, so we return to the workplace feeling strong, competent, and able to manage situations where there is potential conflict. It lets us have a positive impact on the workforce and the people we support, which builds a strong, resilient, and trusting team atmosphere.

2: Effective de-escalation strategies take practice

Consider how much time we have invested into practising the delivery of any chosen de-escalation strategy. Remember the words of Greek poet Archilochus: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

For example, think about how we communicate. It helps if we use fewer words, positive and clear directions, and a calm and confident tone. Using slow movements with gestures, and maintaining a relaxed posture all help. But do we practise this during training, so repetitively that it becomes part of muscle memory, like we would with physical interventions?

Do we practise using a verbal script so much in training that when we’re in a real situation, we can instantly recall it? If so, we are more likely to reduce a risky situation with proactive strategies rather than physical interventions. Remember, we want to be responding, rather than reacting, as situations change.

Are the practices in training meaningful to specific situations or are they generic and ambiguous under the guise of being able to use them in all situations? We often know that a situation is likely to occur at some point. We can prepare for it by using these scenarios to practise proactive strategies, and achieve the knowledge and skills that we can use with confidence and deep trust.

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