Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Chill Out!

 

As a police officer, I often encountered people who were in crisis. In the police academy and elsewhere, we were given a wide array of tools and training to protect ourselves. Verbal de-escalation of people in crisis, not so much. Our mandate was “command presence,” to take charge of every situation we encountered. This, of course, resulted in all sorts of wacky hijinks.

Eventually, the PD brass realized that we needed to be a little more versatile in our approach to the people we were serving. The result was a block on police-community relations in our annual training. Officers disparagingly called these blocks “the flavor of the year,” since they seemed to change every time. One year it was something called “Signature Service.” One year it was “Verbal Judo,” which was pretty good but never had any followup or refresher training. One year, the first thing we were assigned to do was write down all of the derogatory names we could think of for people of different races, cultures, genders, etc. I turned in a blank sheet of paper. The lieutenant teaching the course got on me for that and I told her I would never put my name on a document containing such language; besides, I never used those words myself. I never got the point of this particular class.

Besides being inconsistent and desultory, none of the courses (except Verbal Judo) taught any techniques for verbally de-escalating people in crisis. Some officers learned techniques on their own or improved through experience, others basically were bulls in china shops their entire careers.

Since, except on Halloween, you won’t find a nurse with the same equipment as a police officer,* nurses take verbal de-escalation a lot more seriously. One of the courses in nursing school was something called “therapeutic communication”; Mental health and emergency nurses also take continuing classes on recognizing and diffusing crisis behavior. The main thing that you learn is there are no “magic words” that will calm everyone in crisis. Every individual and situation is different and your best efforts will not work 100 percent of the time. Instead of magic, learn to recognize the different types of crisis behavior and how to diffuse them.

That’s not to say that there are no magic words. As a cop, I knew that could say things that would turn someone from calm to a raging jerk in ten seconds flat. Here are words not quite as outrageous that you also should never use:

“Why?”:  The question “why?” by its very nature is accusative. You are implying that someone has done something wrong and needs to justify their behavior. It’s also a useless question. In the midst a potential crisis situation, you don’t need to know the background causes to resolve the crisis.**

Instead of “Why?”: Focus on outcomes. Some of the techniques you can use are:

  • Interrupt and redirect: “We can discuss your reasons for not mowing the lawn later, after you mow the lawn.”
  • When and then: “When you take out the trash, then you can go back to playing Sexy Ninjas IV.”
  • If and then: “If you clean out the garage, then you can go have a beer with your buddies. If not, well, I have your keys.”

“Calm down, Chill out***, Cool it!”: It’s a historical fact**** that no one who is freaking out has calmed down after being screamed at to calm down.

Instead of “Calm Down”: Give the person time and space, keep them safe, and, most importantly remove the audience. Someone can only shout into a void for so long. Stay quiet until the person has control of themselves and do not let yourself be provoked.

“You can’t say that to me!”: This is an indication that you have let yourself be provoked.

Instead of “You can’t say that to me”: Practice rational detachment. There was saying we had when I was an officer: “it’s not you, it’s the blue.” This works for nurses as well. The patient is not screaming obscenities at you; anyone with a blue uniform would get the same treatment. You need to ask yourself why you are letting this person get to you and chill out. If necessary, ask your pod partner or the charge nurse to give you a break.

* Even on Halloween, you should check the credentials of any nurse with a Tazer and handcuffs.
** Explain this to your wife the next time she asks you why you haven’t mowed the lawn/taken out the trash/cleaned the garage. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.
*** I bet you were wondering when I’d get to this month’s theme.
**** Look it up.

Published in Group Writing
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There are 13 comments.

  1. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma Post author

    This is an email newsletter I sent to my colleagues in my capacity as a Crisis Intervention Instructor. With the coincidence of the title of this month’s group writing project, I couldn’t resist sharing with y’all.

    • #1
    • July 17, 2019, at 4:46 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  2. KentForrester Coolidge

    Jose, I see where you’re coming from. I’ve been watching a lot of those body-cam cop shows these days, and it always surprises me when the cops escalate tensions rather than quell them.

    It’s a tough job.

    What’s with all the erudite working cops or retired cops on Ricochet? Well, I know three, anyway. 

    There are more cops than professors. I don’t feel safe and this isn’t even Starbucks. 

    • #2
    • July 17, 2019, at 4:52 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  3. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    There are more cops than professors. I don’t feel safe and this isn’t even Starbucks. 

    Aw, you don’t need to worry about me. I don’t have a Tazer anymore, and the only handcuffs I have are lined with fur.

    • #3
    • July 17, 2019, at 4:58 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    A helpful post on how to get people to chill out (don’t say “Chill out”). This is part of our July theme series, in which you are invited to tell us how to “Chill Out!” Do click the link and sign up to share your own cool post.

    • #4
    • July 17, 2019, at 5:16 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Doug Watt Member

    Every officer has a different personality, and there are times that the trainer and trainees believe in “magic bullets”. Sort of like the; “This is a great idea”-until it isn’t. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve and explore de-escalation techniques.

    • #5
    • July 17, 2019, at 6:29 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Postmodern Hoplite Member

    Well done @josepluma, very enjoyable read!

    The observations regarding annual training that is noteworthy only for the lack of follow-up and consistency from higher leadership are spot-on. I have seen this for decades in both my careers, the military and education-industrial complex. “Helpful” professional development fads come and go with the seasons, and experienced practitioners come to recognize and dismiss them as such. 

    • #6
    • July 17, 2019, at 7:25 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Ralphie Member

    Consultants are the most successful people of most of these ideas. 

    • #7
    • July 17, 2019, at 8:20 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma Post author

    Hmmm. . . Apparently a pop star named Taylor Swift needs crisis intervention training. 

    • #8
    • July 17, 2019, at 11:16 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    JosePluma: “Calm down, Chill out***, Cool it!”: It’s a historical fact**** that no one who is freaking out has calmed down after being screamed at to calm down.

    That actually worked for me once.

    We were at one of those outdoor, movie-in-the-park events. The movie was almost over when 4 or 5 adults got into a shouting match about someone’s pit bull getting loose and going after some other lady’s dog. There were no injuries, aside from hurt feelings, but they wouldn’t shut up. How so many adults watching “Clueless” in a park can take themselves so seriously, I don’t know. Sitting in my lawn chair, several feet away, I just yelled, “CALM DOWN!” and it worked! It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to employ Command Voice.

    • #9
    • July 18, 2019, at 8:01 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  10. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma Post author

    Joshua Bissey (View Comment):

    JosePluma: “Calm down, Chill out***, Cool it!”: It’s a historical fact**** that no one who is freaking out has calmed down after being screamed at to calm down.

    That actually worked for me once.

    We were at one of those outdoor, movie-in-the-park events. The movie was almost over when 4 or 5 adults got into a shouting match about someone’s pit bull getting loose and going after some other lady’s dog. There were no injuries, aside from hurt feelings, but they wouldn’t shut up. How so many adults watching “Clueless” in a park can take themselves so seriously, I don’t know. Sitting in my lawn chair, several feet away, I just yelled, “CALM DOWN!” and it worked! It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to employ Command Voice.

    What!?! The internets steered me wrong. Mine golden idol ist tarnished.

    • #10
    • July 18, 2019, at 5:52 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    JosePluma: One year, the first thing we were assigned to do was write down all of the derogatory names we could think of for people of different races, cultures, genders, etc. I turned in a blank sheet of paper. The lieutenant teaching the course got on me for that and I told her I would never put my name on a document containing such language; besides, I never used those words myself. I never got the point of this particular class.

    It’s rude to not wallow in collective guilt when invited to. That probably went on your permanent record. 

    • #11
    • July 18, 2019, at 7:38 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Postmodern Hoplite (View Comment):

    Well done @josepluma, very enjoyable read!

    The observations regarding annual training that is noteworthy only for the lack of follow-up and consistency from higher leadership are spot-on. I have seen this for decades in both my careers, the military and education-industrial complex. “Helpful” professional development fads come and go with the seasons, and experienced practitioners come to recognize and dismiss them as such.

    With the unfortunate side effect that any good information is easily ignored. 

    • #12
    • July 18, 2019, at 7:44 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. Quietpi Member

    Amazing! Last night found me teaching a class in – ready for this? – verbal de-escalation, to a group of church security people. This would have been great material, except I’ve been away from the internet for a couple weeks. Ah well, next time…

    • #13
    • July 20, 2019, at 4:31 PM PST
    • 4 likes