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Verbalization De-escalation Grid
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 02/08/2010

Anger You should always attempt to gain voluntary compliance through selected verbal strategies. However, your personal safety is the highest priority. Your initial verbalization to an aggressive individual should be to slow down the conflict event. Attempt to calm the individual and give them clear directions and attempt to explain your actions if the event allows. Redirect the individual’s anger to the past. Utilize L.E.A.P.S. (Listen, Empathize, Ask, Paraphrase, Summarize) “We can work this out,” “We can come up with a solution,” “John, stop and think about how this will turn out later.” Do not challenge them, do not insult them, and do not deny that the situation may go bad. Verbal pacing techniques, Sensory: “I sense you are angry” Visual: “I see that you need help” Auditory: “I hear what you are saying” Utilize questioning to get the individual talking so that you can fully understand why they are angry. Do not take the situation personally and continuously look for verbal and non-verbal body cues to assault. Watch bystanders and friends.

Verbal directions should now progress into informing the individual of their limited options and that they need to comply with your orders. It is important that the individual fully understand what you want them to do so it is not an issue later. The individual needs to fully understand the ramifications and consequences for their actions. “It is important that you understand this so listen carefully and let me say it again…” Never get emotionally involved in the event or allow them to draw you into their drama. The use of profanities will bring down your professional image and allow witnesses to interject that you were the aggressor. Remain calm and slow down your rate of speech and lower the volume at which you are speaking. Make the individual strain to hear you speak so that they unknowingly settle down. “John, this problem is not going away, right now it is a small problem that could get larger” Use a win/Win solution even though it is not exactly what they want. Remain alert, as the individual will be in a flight or fight mentality. The individual will have three options in their mind 1) Fight, 2) Flee, 3) Submit. Take away bystanders.

At this point you have attempted to verbally de-escalate the individual as well as educate the witnesses that you were calm, non-aggressive and attempted to verbally talk the individual into voluntary compliance. You have made the individual aware of their options, ramifications of their actions, and consequences for same. “I have no other choice but to… and if you don’t …” “Is there anything that I can say or do, to get you to comply?” You have thrown down the verbal gauntlet and left the peaceable option for compliance totally in their hands. Depending on their emotional or chemical state they will understand your authority. At this point they will voice their true intentions and let you know exactly what you will have to do to gain compliance. “You need to comply now or we will take the necessary actions to gain your compliance.” Officers at this point need to show their collective intentions to utilize force to gain compliance. As you are closing the gap you will be backing the individual into a corner and initiated the fight response.

Understand that many individuals may not want to be talked into submission and will require you to forcefully apply your orders. Touching the individual will immediately result in their true intentions. Placing your hands on a shoulder or arm to escort the individual will be the pivotal moment in the encounter. You need to feel the tensing of their muscles in resistance to your escort. Physical intervention should not be a ruse or just an empty threat. After reasonable verbal strategies have been attempted physical intervention needs to follow. The escort must be professional, slow and controlled. Continue verbalization and complement the individual upon compliance. They may be just verbally resistant to show bystanders that they did not comply without a fight. If resistance occurs immediately and rapidly take the individual to the ground. Do not allow the individual to gain an advantage and fully understand that resistance is futile. Continue to verbalize to them what they need to do in order to stop the restraint. “Get down on the ground!” “John, Stop Resisting!” “Place your hands behind your back!” “It’s over now John, Just Relax!”

Initial Combative Individuals Verbalization
  • Individual visibly agitated
  • Individual slow to respond to verbalization
  • individual remained silent
  • You are there lawfully
  • Your orders are lawful and reasonable
  • Individual using profanities
  • Individual target glancing
  • Individual looking around
  • Isolated setting

Advanced Officers Verbalization
Aggression Heightens

  • You have made your commands clear and direct
  • You have gave rational options Win/Win
  • You have advised of ramifications and consequences
  • You are not emotionally charged or angry
  • You have not utilized profanities and remained professional
  • Attempt to isolate the individual from highly charged bystanders

Visit the Tracy Barnhart page



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  3. Alessa on 09/01/2010:

    I would reiterate that using profanity lowers our professionalism. This is excellent.

  4. Nonprophet on 02/13/2010:

    this sounds a lot like Verbal Judo to me....

  5. mgmaijala1 on 02/10/2010:

    This is a very good article. I agree with everything that have said. I totally agree that the individual should have limited options and comply with the orders that are given. This ivolves not only inmates but also with children. Thay need to know who is boss, which means they may not want to comply but they have to. I also loved the utilization of L.E.A.P.S Very good! Not taking thing personal is very important. This can lead to situations becoming very stressful.


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