We’re approaching one of the most crazed, maniacal holidays of the year – and no, it’s not Christmas. It’s the dreaded “Black Friday” holiday. More and more every year, we read about someone who was hurt while grabbing the most current craze for their child or loved one. You may think I’m going to write about how to nab those deals and the best techniques and tips for getting the lowest price.
Let’s talk instead about personal safety and how to avoid being in the newspaper in a negative light. It all comes down to how to diffuse a situation and walk away with your head held high and your dignity intact instead of a bloody nose. I’d rather talk about how to de-escalate a situation. An author friend recently posted this in a newsletter and with their permission, I’ve edited it to be relevant to the Black Friday shopper. The tips are good for any confrontational situation really, so hopefully you’ll find something you can bring to mind should you find yourself in this situation.
De-escalation techniques go against our natural fight-or-flight reflexes. Remaining calm and professionally detached is not a natural response, and therefore a skill that needs to be practiced. We need to retrain ourselves to respond in a different way when a challenging situation occurs.
Reasoning with an angry person is simply not possible. However, this is often our immediate response. De-escalation techniques are most successful when used early, before a person becomes physically aggressive. To do this it is necessary to be aware of, and spot, early signs:
• Watch for body language, such as balled fists, fidgeting, shaking, ‘eye-balling’ another person, head thrust forward or clenched jaw.
• Changes in voice, such as speech becoming more rapid or high-pitched, may also indicate aggression. These signs cannot be ignored; you should never turn your back on an angry person in the hope that they just “calm down.”
• If a person can make you as angry as they are, it gives that person “permission” to become even angrier and it justifies their own hostility. You may not always know what you’re going to do, but keep in your head what you are NOT going to do.
• Calm can be just as contagious as fear and must be communicated to the person. Statistics show almost 55% of what we communicate is through body language, 38% is through the tone of voice and just 7% is through words we use. It is useful to remember these proportions when you are trying to de-escalate.
All of this is great, but what do you really need to do? Remember, every situation is unique and very different so you must be prepared. Most likely, the person is not angry or agitated AT you, but at the situation at hand. Keep that in mind—this is not about you!
Appear calm and self-assured. Make sure you are not displaying the same signs of agitation that can be seen in the person.
Don’t clench your fists, do not hold eye contact and avoid standing square to the person.
Maintain a neutral facial expression. Even our eyebrows can indicate we are surprised or angry. Similarly, our mouths can betray our emotions unwittingly. Another natural reaction to stress is a smirk or giggle—both must be controlled.
Allow space. Entering a person’s personal space can be useful to refocus on a task when the situation is calm. But when a person is agitated this can indicate aggression and will escalate the situation. Staying some distance away will also help keep you safe should that person become physically aggressive.
Control your breathing. Watch how the other person is breathing. When we’re stressed, angry or tense, our breathing becomes more shallow and rapid. If we take deeper, slower breaths, this will not only help calm us down, but the person will unconsciously begin to match our own breathing pattern. At times, it can help to match the person’s breathing initially and then gradually slow down.
Lower your voice and keep your tone even. It is hard to have an argument with someone who is not responding aggressively back to you.
Do not argue back. Look back at the first bullet—it is not about you. Do not get drawn into a personal argument.
Acknowledging the person’s feelings shows that you have listened to him or her, and can be crucial when diffusing a situation.
Use words and phrases that de-escalate, such as: “I wonder if….;” “Let’s try …;” “It seems like…;” “Maybe we can….”
Tell the person what you want them to do rather than what you do not want them to do. For example, in a calm voice, say “I’d like you to back away.” Give the person a short time following any direction and avoid backing them into a corner, either verbally or physically.
Things to Avoid
Do not make threats you cannot carry through.
Do not be defensive or take it personally. What is being said may seem insulting and directed at you, but this level of aggression is not really about you.
Do not use humor unless you are 100% sure it will help and you have a very good relationship with the person.
Do not use sarcasm or humiliate the person.
Sometimes, no matter how carefully or skillfully you try to deescalate a situation, it may still reach a crisis point. That is the time to call for assistance.
My hope is that you’ll never be in a conflict situation over shopping, of all things! But if so, these tips may help you diffuse the situation!
Have you ever been in a Black Friday tussle over goods? What happened and what did you do?