A spontaneous conversation inspired this article. A stranger asked me for some advice about de-escalation. As he asked his questions, I began to realize how far his approach was from mine.
Intrigued to understand his point of view, I researched on Google what the public’s take could be and what our education system officially preaches about de-escalation; I dived into the research. I looked for relevant articles and threw the same queries at Chat-GBT.
In a nutshell, the info from formal institutions seemed to echo a “turn the other cheek” mantra, ignoring the fact that some people who start conflicts aren’t so inspired to look for a kumbaya moment. Some people simply aren’t looking for a peaceful resolution. I know it’s hard to fathom when you are a civilized person. But that is the truth.
The de-escalation playbook involved understanding the other side, validating their feelings, and trying to step into their shoes. Sounds all well and good until a fist is hurling towards you at 30 miles an hour with very little time to prepare for it. Trained or not, nobody has time for empathetic inquiries in that split-second; all you can do is react to the physical attack.
Over the years, many people and companies have approached me with “de-escalation queries.” Not once did I feel my responses fell short. Why? Because I’m a firm believer that strength is the unsung hero in defusing situations. In order to react well to a situation, you must understand the full scope of it and its realm of possibilities.
Now, I get it – not everyone is wired the same way. But I can’t see what the harm is in being strong, and I am unclear why people choose to not be. In the best-case scenario, you never have to flex those muscles (and that’s powerful!). In the worst-case, you stand your ground and show some backbone.
When we try to change the trajectory of a negative situation into a positive one, or at least reduce the damage that is likely to happen, we have to do it skillfully.
Knowing how to de-escalate is the skill of negotiation. When you negotiate from a place of fear and inadequacy you won’t get what you want. When we negotiate we must run a risk analysis and be ready for numerous types of outcomes. While the use of force is the last resort, we must take into account the possibility of violence and educate ourselves on how to react to it. This is the only way to remain peaceful. When you know how to apply the “minimum damage required” in order to walk in peace, you know you don’t have to hurt someone badly. Also, you are less likely to get hurt yourself.
Some skeptics hold the notion that learning how to fight turns you into an aggressive person, and think it’s a one-way ticket to violence. They say – “engaging in combat training is a violent act.” believing it leads only to an escalation of violence. That world view dismisses the part of reality they wish to avoid. Violence against them is a possibility and they have yet to learn how to handle it.
But let me set the record straight – if fighting clashes with your values, then by all means, don’t throw punches. But what about when you’re dealing with someone who couldn’t care less about your beliefs? What if your attacker isn’t sold on the whole peace and love deal? That’s when diplomacy fails, and guess what steps in? Yep, violence.
In order to de-escalate a violent situation, one must know how to handle the violence. I’m in the business of teaching people how to be strong. And let me tell you, getting strong ain’t as easy as swiping left or right on a dating app. It’s a grind, a journey that takes some grit and time.
When it comes to physical violence, the context always matters. Sometimes, we have to do “wrong” in order to achieve the right thing. Hurting someone falls under the “wrong” category, but not if hurting them would be costly to us. So, in this case, fighting is the lesser of two evils and is actually doing the morally just thing.
To be clear – I am against violence. It conflicts with my values. But I am not shying away from it if the only choice left is to fight. I am not living by the sword, but I have one I am ready to use.
So, here’s the million-dollar question: How do you de-escalate a violent or potentially violent situation without turning into a shrinking violet and just praying your adversary has a change of heart? My two cents – train to be strong and skilled. Turn that question into a multiple-choice puzzle. As the old saying goes, “When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.”
Remember that de-escalation is a process of using verbal and nonverbal communication to calm down a potentially violent situation. When we encounter a situation that has the potential for violence, the first step in defense is to find out if there’s a path to de-escalation. It is our moral and legal obligation to defuse and do no harm if we can. Leave yourself and your adversary an ‘honorable escape”.
If you respond with aggression, expect the person in front of you to mirror that. They are walking down that path. If you wish not to join, create a different path. When we speak calmly, there’s a better chance for a non-violent resolution, but it is not at all a guarantee. We must have an exit strategy that allows us to leave in peace, in one piece.
So what is a “full strategy”?
As we always say in Krav Maga, remember situational awareness.
- Identify potential threats around you.
- Distance yourself from identified threats when possible.
- If minimizing exposure is impractical, assess alternative strategies, including methods of eliminating or mitigating the threats.
If you are on the “reactive” side, you are always too late. On this side you don’t control what is going on; it is happening to you, and you are reacting. Then chances are if you react well, you are more likely to reach safety. If you don’t react well, things may not go your way.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to a violent situation; Ego, anger, fear, frustration and in my opinion bad communication skills and lack of self defense training are also a big part of it.
Here’s my road map:
•Trust your gut. If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. Fear can be a valuable gift.
•Even if you don’t fear a fight, know if your motive or decision to engage is based on ego or real necessity.
•Look for an opportunity to walk away. Better safe than sorry.
•Stay aware of your surroundings. Look for exits and try to identify “safe people” around you (like police officers, security guards or a good samaritan).
•Look for common objects you could use for self defense in case things escalate.
•Maintain a calm and respectful tone of voice. Avoid yelling or raising your voice. Avoid making threats or promises. This will only escalate the situation.
•Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
If the situation is not de-escalating, the temptation to use aggression may arise. But remember – the use of power can also be used for doing good.
•Be assertive. Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for yourself without being aggressive.
•If you can help your adversary feel like they “won” and walk away, you actually won. Sometimes saying something like “you are right, I apologize” even if you are absolutely right it is a victory by strategy, and not by the use of force.
Incorporating these tips into your approach allows you to learn to use power in a positive way when things go wrong, and may create better outcomes for yourself and those around you.
Be aware and understand your own capabilities, striking a balance between confidence and humility. Don’t underestimate your abilities, nor overestimate them. This will help you to use it responsibly.
How would you know to evaluate your skill currently? No other tool but training will provide you this information.