Defusion, or “talking down,” is the verbal and non-verbal communication you employ to calm down an aggressive person and avoid a violent situation. These useful strategies are commonly used by social workers, police, and healthcare professionals.
These communication skills are good to tuck away in your mind, as you can encounter an aggressive person in the workplace, in the street, or in your home.
Even if you are a a timid person, there is much you can do, even with shaking hands and a dry mouth. Breathe slowly and calm yourself. Being scared in this situation is your natural “fight or flight” response to danger switching on.
Signs to be aware of
An aggressive person is relatively easy to spot. They appear on-edge and may show physical signs of being fidgety, having a clenched jaw and fists, a fixed, penetrating gaze, a red face, and rapid breathing.
An aggressive person may start shouting, or bang and throw objects about. They tend to react to what is being said in an over-sensitive way.
It is most important that you understand that when a person is in this hostile state, they are far from rational.
Therefore, until they’ve cooled down, don’t expect them to see things as you do.
Now’s not the time to solve any big problems, it’s now time to simply help them to manage their rage, until either they, or the police or security, can manage the situation.
If you encounter a person in this state, it’s best to quietly leave the scene if you are not already engaged with the person.
However, you may be at work and cannot leave, or have already made contact with the aggressive person. In this case, it’s time to put some of these strategies to work.
How to defuse an aggressive person
- Move your body back and angle yourself at a slightly diagonal position. This gives you a comfortable amount of personal space, and shows the person you are not squaring off against them.
- Maintain neutral eye contact, to show you are listening, let your gaze drop every now and then.
- Keep your face relaxed and avoid smiling, as in their highly volatile state they may perceive this as “laughing at them.”
- Talk to the person in a calm and passive voice, and do not argue. Listen to the tone of your voice; you don’t want to come across as sarcastic.
- Try to find ways to agree with the person, such as: “I can see you have been treated unfairly…” It’s impossible to become aggravated by someone who is agreeing with you.
- Show that you are listening to the person, and use reassuring communication such as nodding and words like “ah- ha,” “yeah,” and “hmmm.”
If someone in the workplace looks uncharacteristically on-edge, acknowledge their feelings by reflecting to them: “You seem a little tense; are you ok?” By reaching out, you are allowing them to talk and defuse their stress. You always feel better after a little vent, and knowing people care about your wellbeing.
Defusing an aggressive person is not about winning or losing, it’s about walking away from a potentially dangerous situation with no injury to yourself, others, or the aggressor.