Verbal Deescalation For Disruptive Persons
Verbal deescalation is an important subject for church safety. It can move a person from the edge of committing a violent act to the position of making a controlled decision. The Bible tells us, “the tongue holds the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). When used properly, verbal deescalation is a powerful tool.
What Is Verbal Deescalation?
Verbal deescalation is a learnable skill which can be used to prevent a verbally disruptive person from becoming physically combative. It is the Church Security team’s first and most frequently used response when dealing with verbally disruptive people.
The challenge of learning verbal deescalation is to eliminate the assumption that there are magic words or phrases which instantly calm people down. The truth is that verbal deescalation is a set of principles and guidelines which are most effectively used by people of maturity and emotional intelligence.
Goals of Deescalation
There are four main goals of verbal deescalation:
- keep lines of communication open
- get the person talking
- actively listen
- maintain control through clear and calm communication
Before we discuss the techniques of verbal deescalation, we need to discuss both identifying a potentially violent person and preventing incidents.
Why Do People Become Disruptive?
It’s critically important to understand why people become disruptive. In most cases disruptive behavior is a result of a personal crisis. A personal crisis happens when a person perceives an event or situation has exceeded his/her ability to cope with the problem and the emotional anguish becomes intolerable.
There are several causes of personal crises:
- family problems– a marriage falling apart, teenagers acting out, arguments with in-laws, and countless other scenarios
- financial problems – their home may be in foreclosure, they may have lost a job, they may not be able to feed their families or pay their bills
- substance problems – alcoholism and addiction can put a great deal of strain on people
- medical problems – chronic pain, a serious medical diagnosis, or even terminal illness can change people’s personalities and behavior.
- mental illness – mental illness can also contribute to verbally combative behaviors.
It’s important to remember that a person who has a personal crisis is not necessarily weak in faith or character. Everybody has hard times, so we should be compassionate and humble.
Protesters also sometimes become disruptive. They are different from people in crisis because their intent is to disrupt and destroy the church’s ministry and reputation. Because of this issue, we need to be aware that the media will be present and recording devices will be in use. Media are looking for that five second clip taken out of context which will embarrass the church. The good news is that the same principles of verbal de-escalation still apply. We need clear, calm communication.
When someone may become verbally combative or physically violent, he or she usually exhibits several warning signs in behavior or through physical manifestations. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2014) has a good fact sheet about these issues.
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