De-Escalating Aggressive Behaviors
Additional Tips for De-escalating Aggressive Behavior
In cases of direct threat to you or others, call the University Police Department (408) 924-2222 immediately. (Consider saving this phone # into your cell phone.)
Ensuring your own safety:
- Prior to the meeting, alert a colleague or supervisor that you may be meeting with a potentially violent person, so that your colleague may be ready to call the police or others for assistance.
- Consider holding the meeting in a more public arena, perhaps having another colleague or supervisor in the meeting with the person.
- If you decide to meet with the person privately, keep your door open when meeting with a potentially violent person.
- Arrange your office furniture so that you have a clear path to the door to exit if need be, and the other person won’t be as easily able to block your path.
If a person becomes aggressive or seems potentially violent, first ensure your own safety. Take long, deep breaths to stay as calm as possible.
- It is generally helpful to meet with a disruptive person in private. Reduce stimulation. This provides an opportunity for the faculty or staff to address issues directly without interruption or shaming the person.
- Use low, deeper tones, and avoid raising your voice or talking too fast.
- Use gentle, soft voice, speaking slowly and confidently.
- Allow the person to tell you what is upsetting them.
- Acknowledge the person’s strengths (e.g., good attendance, desire to perform well, etc.)
- Stay calm and paraphrase your understanding of the person’s experiences. Set aside your own thoughts and responses and focus on what you are hearing.
- Validate the person’s possible emotions and what is upsetting them.
- Be specific and gentle, but firmly directive about the behavior that you will accept. For example, “Please sit down.” Or, “Please lower your voice and do not scream at me.” Or, “Please do not thrash your arms like that. Please keep them lowered.”
- Explain your intent before making any moves (e.g., “I’d like to get some water. Would you like some?” Or, I’m going to move behind you to close that window.)
- Take deep breaths, slowing down your breathing so that you remain calm.
- If the tension in the room is not dissipating, consider taking a quick break. (Apologize in a calm tone for needing to step out just for a couple of minutes, stating for example that you would like to consult with a supervisor; that you would like to get a glass of water, and offer one to the person; etc.)
- Ask the person what would be helpful from you. Ask for permission to problem-solve the issue. The person may just be venting and may not want you to problem-solve with them.
- Summarize what the person has said, and summarize any agreed upon resolutions.
- Do not argue. When a person is already agitated or angry, he/she may escalate if they do not feel heard. Even if you are correct, arguing at this point will likely increase aggression. It is more helpful to show that you heard them and to de-escalate than to be correct.
- Do not focus on the person, and do not use adjectives or labels to describe the person. Instead, do focus on the specific behavior.
- Do not restrict the person’s movement. If he/she wants to stand, allow them. Do not corner them.
- Do not meet behind closed door if you foresee possible danger.
- Do not touch the person or make sudden moves.
- Do not threaten the person. Threatening could increase someone’s fear, which could prompt defense or aggression.
- Do not press for explanation about their behavior. Avoid “why” questions; these tend to increase a person’s defenses.
- Do not take the person’s behavior or remarks personally. Disruptive or aggressive behavior generally results from other life problems.
- Campus Civility and the Disruption of Learning: A Guide for Faculty and Staff, CSU Long Beach, CA
- First Aid for Aggressive Behavior, Mental Health First Aid