De-escalate Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, Part II

Teaching,  I know, is an awesome and rewarding profession.  My major was secondary education and I have done some high school and college teaching.  But teaching (or training, which is what I have done for the last thirty-some years) is not for everybody because communicating and interacting with younger, impressionable, and often volatile people, even in a classroom setting, can be a dangerous undertaking.

Aggression and actual assaults against teachers have been on the rise in the last decade or so.  Now (at the edge of the new year) our world is a more dangerous place than ever before.  Self-Defense is more important than ever.  But this post is not about physical techniques or strategies of self-defense or Subject Control  strategies.  Instead, I thought we could chat about using words and positive body language to manage threat in the classroom.

Mind-To-Mouth Dysharmony

According to Verbal Judo, Inc., in the last ten years over 700 law enforcement officers have lost their lives attempting to manage violent people.  But, “700 times that many have visited emergency rooms because of their inability to engage violent people with words that calm.” George Thompson, the brilliant founder of VJ used to call this disastrous tendency Mind-To-Mouth Disharmony.

Okay, Hammer, How To We Find Mind To Mouth Harmony?

  1. UNPLUG THE POWER STRUGGLE.  Which almost always means leave your ego out of the interaction.  Ego (and Bad Tone) are the two most dangerous elements in any confrontational interaction!  Ego, to me, translates into always needing to win (Win-Lose) an argument.  Ego also translates into being defensive and striking back when insulted or threatened by a student.
  2. BE EMPATHETIC.  Which  is another way of unplugging the power struggle.  To be empathetic, you must do several things that de-escalate.  You must stop talking, you must listen, you must calm yourself, you must understand his or her (student’s) feelings, and you must say and do something that tells him or her you understand what is influencing their current actions.  “I know you are upset about……I probably would feel the same way…”
  3. ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE COUNTER-INTUITIVE.  Yes, I know you are a teacher used to being intuitive, but, here is the deal:  “Defusing an Aggressive, emotionally disturbed person who is not in his right mind (Seriously, I don’t care with whom you are dealing, when upset to the degree he or she is becoming aggressive, he or she is “under the influence” of emotions that actually cause him or her to be “brain damaged.”  I urge parents, teachers, counselors, security, et al. to think of these individuals in this way and make sure they treat upset people in such a way that they must think and act for that damaged person as that person might think or act in 24-hours when they are no longer under the influence of drugs, alcohol, anger, rage, humiliation, embarrassment, prejudices, fear, etc.
  4. COUNTER-INTUITIVE SIMPLY MEANS DE-ESCALATION IS AN UNNATURAL ACT.  This is a very important concept.  It is also a timeless and true factoid.  “When we react (to insults, threats, intimidation, profanity, or other types of verbal hostility) according to our “natural” feelings, I guarantee that we will escalate a person and/or a situation 100% of the time.”  Instead, I urge you to always respond in a logical, methodical and “constructed” manner.  By this I mean that our Natural Voice is always personal, emotional, automatic (instinctive) and quick.  Our natural reactions is driven by our Primitive Brain, which kicks in when it believes that its safety is being challenged.
  5. DE-ESCALATION REQUIRES TEACHERS TO THINK AND ACT OUT OF THE “THINKING BRAIN (NEO CORTEX).  Remember, when you are upset and you react immediately, you are acting from the Primitive Brain.  Meaning you are “brain damaged” and have no shot at defusing anybody.  Instaed, consider using some of my cluster of deescalation tactics that can only emerge out of the “Thinking Brain.”


  • Slow everything down.  Never react automatically.  Stop and think.
  • Cycle-Breathe.  Send oxygenated blood to your brain.  Drop your heart rate into the thinking mode.
  • Rule of Minus-1.  Tell yourself to act and speak at least one degree “softer and slower” than what the aggressor is showing you.  One degree lower that what you feel like showing.
  • Show Respect.  I call treating a person (student) with disrespect War Language.  Meaning, 100 times out of 100, the perception of being dissed leads to nore escalation.  Seventy-five times out of 100, it leads to dangerous aggression.  Instead, even if you are feeling angry at the student, make sure you show him or her respect!


Empathy and Peace Phrases Absorb Tension.  Use this simple approach to angry and aggressive people. We already discussed empathy, so let’s finish up with what VJ calls Peace Phrases, designed to guide the aggressive person back to a calm state of mind.  Here are a few:

  • “You may be right…”
  • “Sir, try it.  It will be good for you, good for me, good for everybody.”
  • “John (always a good idea to use the person’s name), for your safety and mine, please stand up and…” (instead of “We can do this the easy way or the hard way”).
  • “Tom, I wonder if it would be okay to ask you a few questions?” (asking permission).
  • “Jill, you have some great options here…”
  • “Theresa, help me help you.”
  • “Louie, Come on.  Do you really need this kind of problem today?”
  • “Kale, we can work on this.  After all, two heads are better than one.”

I cannot possibly detail all the ways you can de-escalate disruptive students, but Part I and Part II should give you the basics and beyond.  Remember, it is not what you say, but what you do that defuses.  Make “what you do” work by defusing yourself when under stress (verbal attacks and threats), avoiding the “natural” and catastrophic “alarm reaction,” and taking a methodical approach.

Which just comes down to always responding professionally instead of personally.

Until my next post, stay safe.

The Hammer

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