Skills for the Job: De-escalating a confrontation

Having a range of communication skills can help children's professionals safely defuse aggressive and hostile behaviour.

What is de-escalation?
De-escalation involves the use of calm language, alongside other communication techniques, to defuse confrontational or violent situations. Verbal de-escalation can be categorised into three subsets of skills:

  • Deceleration – reducing the likelihood of hostility or aggression before it happens
  • Redirection – defusing hostile or aggressive behaviour when it occurs
  • De-escalation – guiding the person to a better state of emotional and physical calm during the extremes of aggressive or violent behaviour

What are the main techniques?
De-escalation involves a combination of non-verbal (gestures, facial expression and posture), para-verbal (the way things are said) and verbal skills.

In terms of non-verbal techniques, it is important to stand in front or to the side of a young person and ensure that you are at the same level (sitting if the person is sitting; standing if they are standing). Body posture and movement should be open and non-confrontational. Facial expressions (eye contact, frowns and smiles) and hand and arm movements should be used to reinforce or emphasise what is being communicated verbally. Mirroring and matching non-verbal behaviours can also be an effective approach to build and maintain rapport. Touch can also be used as a means of communication to convey positive messages including care, support, and encouragement.

Para-verbal skills are also essential. It is important to use a soft and clear tone, not shout or raise your voice, and maintain a steady rate and rhythm of speech by avoiding unnecessarily fast or slow interactions.

Verbal skills that can also be effective during de-escalation are based on the notion of mutual respect. They involve:

  • Providing necessary information to people
  • Making requests
  • Giving instructions
  • Recognising that silence can be an effective verbal intervention

Everyone has a story and wishes to be heard, and everyone wants to be liked and wishes to avoid confrontation and hostility.

While trust, mutual respect, positive relationships and a level of skill in verbal de-escalation cannot prevent behaviour from getting out of control, it can stack things in your favour to reduce crisis situations from happening.

In which situations can you use these skills?

Deceleration skills should be used during all interactions with children and young people since they help staff establish and maintain a rapport with young people.

A good rapport is the key to positive and productive relationships and enables staff to demonstrate a mutual respect and understanding. Using these skills in everyday interactions is less likely to lead to unintended trigger points and therefore reduce the likelihood of aggressive or violent behaviour.

Redirection techniques can be used in response to situations where a young person is beginning to lose self-control and rationality. It involves a more active approach by staff to consciously avert an escalation in behaviour.

De-escalation skills should be used during physical intervention when the individual is unable to effectively process information due to the emotional and physical arousal associated with crisis behaviour.

Why is de-escalation preferable to restraint?

In extreme situations people have died where restraint has been a factor. More commonly, it can result in injuries and allegations of misuse and abuse, particularly with individuals who are vulnerable and cannot defend their rights.

Given this situation, helping staff to develop their de-escalation skills can contribute significantly to the overall reduction in the use of restraint.



  • Develop and refine your existing interpersonal skills
  • Attend training if possible
  • Use de-escalation all the time - don't wait for the potential crisis because if you do you will find your skills are "rusty" or non-existent
  • Take notice of feedback. Reflect on the responses you get to further refine your skills

Chris Stirling, executive director of European development, Crisis Prevention Institute

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