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A Calming Conversation

Conversational Engagement with a Disrupter

Conflict resolution
An article in the series De-Escalating Disruptive Persons based on the Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy module “Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4.[1]

From the Bible

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Proverbs 16:24).

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11).

When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9).


Do you remember a time when the right words and a calm demeanor might have defused a situation, but were not used, and it turned out to be regrettable? Do you also remember a time when someone said the right thing and tempers cooled? Some persons naturally have the gift of calming tensions, but for most of us Verbal De-Escalation is a skill which can be learned.

In the News

When verbal de-escalation in a church defuses a tense situation, preventing violent disruption, it rarely - if ever - makes news. However, when police do it, it is more often news. It works out there, and it works at church.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 6, 2018 - It was 12:27 am on Election Day, just hours before voters would go to the polls. Police responded to reports of shots being fired at N. 29th St. and W. Michigan St. The first officer on the scene saw a young man with an AR-15. She calmly engaged him conversationally, beginning with, "What is that in your hand, Sir?" She kept the man calm as she conversed with him. She called for backup while he was saying he was running for governor. Eventually another officer was able to take the weapon from him and lead him away. The man was indicted on several charges, but the case was suspended awaiting a court-ordered mental evaluation.[2]

Hyattsville, Maryland, March 13, 2021 - Two police officers responded to the report of an angry, upset man in a convenience store. Realizing that responding in kind would not make anything better, they talked with the man, showing understanding and calming him down. Eventually he let them use his phone to call family members who came and took him.

The officers had participated in the department's Mental Health and Wellness Program. The program's focus the next month was on mental health and domestic abuse.[3]

Garland, Texas, September 14, 2020 - A man in a coffee shop was upset. He was screaming and yelling. A couple in the drive-thru saw this and called 911. The responding officer sat down with the man at a table and talked with him. The man calmed down.[4]

Featured Resources

For November, our featured resources are a free download (Responding to Behavioral Emergencies), a training module (Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4 in the SDCS Training Academy), an affiliate membership (in the Worship Security Association), and a Church Security Guide article ("Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation").

Responding to Behavioral Emergencies

How should we deal with people in crisis? This PDF file points out that the center of a behavioral crisis is a person in crisis. Verbal and physical assaults deal with the person as just a problem, not someone in need. Verbal de-escalation does more than address a problem; it helps the person. Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis briefly outlines the causes of disruption (personal crises), the warning signs of crisis and of the beginning of disruptive behavior, and steps to defuse the situation. Click *HERE* to get it.[5]

Deescalating Disruptive Persons

The Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy is the key to the Safety Member Certification program. It has seven training modules:

  1. Security Team Fundamentals v4
  2. Active Shooter Response v4
  3. Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4
  4. Protecting Children from Abuse v4
  5. Basic Use of Force Laws v4
  6. Arson and Fire Safety v4
  7. Severe Weather and Natural Disasters v3

The third module, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4," teaches Church Safety Team members what verbal de-escalation is, what causes disruption, how to recognize disruptive persons and developing situations, and how to approach and talk with a potentially disruptive individual. Training is available as materials for teaching a class and online for individuals.[6]

Worship Security Association

Simon Osamoh and others provide a broader perspective on church safety and security in the training videos on the Worship Security Association. Besides additional training for members of the Church Safety Ministry, this resource helps in educating church leadership on security issues, including verbal de-escalation (see the trailer). Some of them may be used to inform the congregation. An affiliate membership is available through Sheepdog Church Security.[7]

Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation

The Church Security Guide has nine articles on several aspects of church security:

  1. Introduction to Church Safety and Security
  2. How to Conduct a Risk Assessment
  3. Church Safety Team Basics
  4. Fire Safety in the Church
  5. Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters
  6. Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church
  7. Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force
  8. Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation
  9. Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training

The eighth one, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," has a substantial discussion of verbal de-escalation. Its six sections are:

The Power of Words

Proverbs has a lot to say about words and how they are used. Examples include "A soft answer" or "grievous words" (15:1), "Pleasant words" (16:24), and "A word fitly spoken" (16:7). Words do have power, important enough to be protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Church is a place where words matter - in classes, in messages, in song and hymn lyrics, and in counseling. They matter as members meet with each other and with visitors. They matter when issues need to be addressed.

When someone is depressed, disturbed, troubled, or angry, words matter. Which words are used and how they are spoken can make the difference between calm and chaos. Some words will further enflame a situation, possibly leading to violence. The second part of Prov. 15: 1 is, "but grievous words stir up anger." In verbal de-escalation, this is what we try to avoid.

Conversational Confrontation

Many people, if not most, think of hostility and conflict when we hear "confrontation." To them the heading of this section connotes an argument or a shouting match. But what if the intent of the confrontation is to defuse hostility and to cool heated tempers? As in the news stories above, confrontation can be a calming conversation. It engages the suspect in a non-violent way. It dissipates built-up negative emotional energy. It provides a means of expression that is an alternative to violence. And it buys time for backup to come in and, if need be, remove the option of violence. The Church Security Guide article "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation" says, "Verbal de-escalation uses words to prevent a disruptive person from becoming violent."[8]

Engaging with the Subject

When engaging a disturbed or agitated person, be friendly, yet firm. Appear as non-threatening. If the person feels threatened, he or she will become more tense, more agitated, and therefore harder to deal with. Don't walk too fast when approaching. Move your hands slowly. Stand close enough to communicate, but not too close. Use the Interview Stance with hands in front of you in a relaxed position. Ask them if they need water, a place to sit, etc.

Verbal Strategies that Work

Introduce yourself and address them respectfully. Never tell them to "Cool it" or "Calm down." If you know or find out the person's name, use it. Then they know they're being treated as an individual, a person.

Avoid Verbal Diversity Landmines

Be aware of respectful address in racial/ethnic contexts. For example, never call an African-American male "Boy." It is better to use "Man" or "Brother" or "Sir." There are also verbal sensitivities for Latinos and Asians of various national origins. It is advisable to never use derisive ethnic/racial terms in ordinary conversation, which may be overheard. If you're not using these names anyway, they're less likely to pop up when affected persons are around or when talking to a disruptive individual.

Practice active listening

Let the other person know you are listening and maintain eye contact. Let them talk without interruption. That will let some steam out, as well as giving you some insight into their thoughts and feelings.

Understand, Not Agree

Understanding is not agreement. Let them know you know what they're saying without indicating that you agree or disagree with them.

Not Too Many Questions

Use a few open questions to draw them out and express their thoughts and feelings. Use specific questions - such as, "What did you see, then?" - only to follow up on what they said or to lead them in the direction of calm. However, we do not want to make them feel like they are being interrogated. If they are uncomfortable answering a question, quit asking.

Maintaining Control


In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul lists the characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit, from "love" through "temperance." The Greek word for "temperance" means self-control. This means that self-control is expected in Spirit-filled Christians.

In verbal de-escalation, this means controlling your thoughts and emotions, your words and tone of voice, and your body language and facial expressions. All of these are needed to successfully defuse dangerous situations.

Situational control

A certain degree of situational control may be needed when trying to defuse explosive tensions. You don't need a crowd. If you can, move the conversation to a place away from other people. Call for backup (Code Orange) before engaging the subject. One team member can steer the crowd away from the conversation while another is your backup. When you have the person's attention, you may try to move slowly to where there is no crowd behind you - that is if the person turns to keep facing you. Sometimes you can get the person to sit down with his or her back to any crowd. You can use a facing chair.

Meanwhile, the backup member has called for medical help in case it will be needed.

Helping the Subject

Persons in crisis are persons in need. They need some kind of help. This most likely includes counseling. Other kinds of help which may be needed are medical, financial, job leads, mental health, assistance with housework, rescue from an abusive situation, etc. There should be someone in the church who can find this help for them or offer it themselves.


"Blessed are the peacemakers." That is our role when using verbal de-escalation.

There Is More

There are five Sheepdog Church Security articles for November. The other four are "The 2007 Neosho First Congregational Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned), "Dialing Down the Heat" (Dealing with Disruption), "On the Radar" (Warnings of Disruption), and "The 2007 New Life Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned).


  1. Kris Moloney, "Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4," Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Angélica Sanchez, "'I am running for governor:' Video shows officer calmed man charged in Election Day threats," Fox6Now Milwaukee, February 4, 2019 [February 4, 2019].
  3. Shomari Stone, "Maryland Officers Deescalate Situation, Offer Compassion to Man in Behavioral Crisis," NBC Washington, March 18, 2021, updated March 19, 2021 [].
  4. Deborah Ferguson, "Garland Woman Praises Compassionate Cop: ‘I Was Moved to Tears'," NBC DFW, September 16, 2020 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, "Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2019 [].
  6. Kris Moloney, "Safety Member Certification," Sheepdog Church Security [].
  7. Simon Osamoh, Worship Security Association (Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link), 2021 [].
  8. Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2020 [].