De-escalation Tactics – Part One

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology

PART ONE – UNDERPINNING PRINCIPLES

All aggressive and violent behaviours have underlying causes, which could be summarized under the headings of chemical factors and psychological factors. These are interrelated but for the sake of brevity are listed separately. Understanding and influencing these (through communication) is the best way to resolve conflict.

PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS

Motivating factors

These may be far more varied than the examples listed below, but can generally be categorized as immediate or primary causes and underlying or secondary causes.

Immediate causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Physical presence or (over-long) eye contact interpreted as a challenge, overly alpha or beta male body language, a push or stumble into a person, the spilling of food or drink, a vehicle accident, peer pressure, denial of a perceived need.

Secondary causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Family or work stress, suppressed anger (generally linked to the former but inhibited by potential consequence), racism or social/political beliefs, past experiences, peer pressure, the role and acceptability of violence and aggression in both upbringing and normal social environment, fatigue, past success in achieving aims through aggressive or violent behaviours.

Inhibiting factors

These could be categorized as physical and social factors.

Physical factors:

The relative sizes of parties involved, perceived strength and ability of the other party, the ‘known quantity’ of the other party, body language, perceived alertness, company (of either party), immediate consequences, likelihood of injury.

Social factors:

Peer reaction – acceptance or alienation, legal and family or work repercussions, the social acceptability of aggression and violence within the individual’s social group.

Through positioning, body language, listening and using appropriate tone and speech the underlying aim should be to attempt to reduce the individual’s motivation to continue to use aggression and possibly attempt violence, while strengthening their inhibition against such approaches.

CHEMICAL FACTORS

Drugs

Alcohol or other substances weaken inhibition and can reduce awareness and comprehension. This will affect the ability of another person to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

Underlying medical conditions

Due to a pre-existing health condition the other person may not necessarily be on the same ‘operating system’ as everyone else and may not respond in the same way.

Adrenaline

Aural and visual exclusion along with other side effects of adrenaline may hinder communication and attempts to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

It is unlikely that there is much that you can do once an incident has already begun that will mitigate underlying chemical factors. If spotted early enough then the effect of drugs such as alcohol can be reduced by slowing absorption into the blood stream by providing food and withdrawing further alcohol (if safe to do so), but these are factors that are largely outside your control.

It is important to be aware of the role of chemical factors as ‘tipping points’ in an individual’s behaviour patterns. Whether they are part of the primary or secondary cause of the problem they may lower the probability of a successful non-violent de-escalation.

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