Want Someone to Calm Down? Don’t Say These 3 Things

It is important to choose words carefully when dealing with a combative person, and there are certain phrases that should be avoided altogether.
Published: May 13, 2020

When people think of the characteristics of a security officer, they often think of physical capabilities — someone who is strong enough to protect themselves or others if an interaction turns hostile. However, it is the mental capabilities of a security officer that sets them apart from the herd.

The professional campus security officer, armed or unarmed, should have effective communication skills in his or her arsenal of tools for the job. Below are just a few of the many communication skills professional security officers should use when trying to de-escalate a situation.

Tip 1: Bring Your Voice and Body Language Down

When a person gets heated and riled up, they will often speak louder and in a higher octave. Many times, aggravated people will also become animated with their body language. They will puff up, wave their arms, or stomp. One strategy that is easy to do, and works remarkably well, is to lower your voice and control your body language when talking to a person who is obviously upset.

If you become animated and raise your voice in response, the situation is apt to escalate. If you remain calm and lower your voice, the person you are communicating with will often start to calm down to hear what you are saying and will then respond in a more controlled manner.

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A technique you can couple with lowering your voice is to ask the person to move to a different location. During events, many problems start in the middle of crowds. Your request to move to a less noisy location to discuss the situation serves several goals.

First, and most obvious, is the quiet location allows you to lower your voice and for the person you are communicating with to do the same. Second, it takes the person away from the audience they may have been playing to. Individuals will sometimes become loud and obnoxious to create a show for spectators. Without the audience, they often calm down. Additionally, the place you move to out of the crowd should also be closer to the exit. If you have to eject the person, especially if it requires going hands-on, being closer to the exit and out of the crowd will make this much easier.

Tip 2: Don’t Say These 3 Things That Will Escalate the Situation

Word or phrase selection is also important. Certain phrases will escalate a situation and won’t help you achieve your communication goals. While “You Need To Calm Down” was a hit for Taylor Swift, it’s not the best phrase to use when trying to de-escalate a situation. It criticizes their behavior and implies they have no right to be upset. You can get farther by keeping a calm demeanor and asking, “Can you tell me what is going on or what the trouble is?”

Another phrase that usually doesn’t go over very well is, “Because those are the rules.” The saying is pointless and shows a lack of respect. You will connect with the person in a more positive way if you communicate the “why” with what you need them to do. An example might be, “Our policy states…and for your safety and ours, this is why…”

A third phrase that you should eliminate from your communications while working security is, “I’m not going to say this again.” It’s probably not true anyway, as many people will say it again. And, if it is true, you have just given yourself one action — don’t tip your hat to your adversary.

Tip 3: Let Them Say What They Want If They Are Doing What You Want

It’s critical to remember your goals for the situation. You mustn’t let feelings, ego or the need to be right or get in the last word interfere with your desired outcome. For example, I have walked individuals out of events they were being ejected from while enduring a barrage of profanity, insults and threats. However, while their mouths were working overtime, they were doing what I needed them to do: exit the event.

Engaging at their level or going hands-on over an insult when not necessary would only escalate the situation rather than accomplish the desired outcome. It does not matter what a person is saying if they are doing what you need them to do. Let the words they spew out bounce off as long as their actions are what you are directing them to do. While doing this may require biting one’s tongue, professionals don’t allow ego and emotions to dictate actions. Professionals respond appropriately to achieve desired results.

I have ejected numerous individuals and groups while working security for campus events, and I talked out way more people than I physically walked out. Effective communication skills are sometimes overlooked in importance when it comes to security, but they are far more important than many physical characteristics and skills often associated with the job.

Communication and interpersonal skills will be used daily and should be studied, practiced and implemented to achieve the individual goals of the officer, as well as the overreaching goals of the hiring organization.

Alain Burrese is an active shooter response instructor and the director of active defense training for Reflex Protect.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series