A survey of more than 230 social care workers indicated that 101 had never received training in defusing aggressive situations involving service users.
Nearly all those surveyed (227) by Oliver Brennan Training Consultants believed their practice would be safer if they received such training.
Defusion, talkdown or de-escalation is the use of verbal and non-verbal behaviour to calm aggression and reduce the likelihood of violence.
Defusion is enhanced communication by being able to tune in to the person, gained through self-awareness – knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses and realising how our own behaviour can influence the response of others.
Knowing the person who is behaving aggressively is a huge advantage, because this enables you to identify even tiny changes in the person’s behaviour, the nuances that come with spending time with them.
But what can you do when faced with an aggressive stranger?
The neologism AIRTLP allows for a systematic approach in such circumstances.
Assess the person’s behaviour (this is instantaneous).
Identify the trigger factors to ascertain what has caused the person to become aggressive.
Reassure the person. Tell them you want to help them not hurt them. This contributes to rapport-building.
Talk to the person. Say a few words to prompt the aggressor to tell you what is causing their anger.
Listen actively to the person by using non-verbal indicators such as nodding and cues such as “aha”. The more the person speaks, the less likely they are to be physically violent.
Problem solving. Ultimately, aggressive people are like us. They want someone to help them sort out their problem, which is what you do most of the time.
Other aspects to consider are:
● Steady eye contact.
● Think about your posture: how you stand, where you put your hands.
● Respecting the other person’s personal space.
● Understanding facial expression.
● Speak clearly and quietly with the right tone.
Defusion is not about winning or losing, it is about going home physically and psychologically in one piece.
There is much you can still do even if your heart is racing, your mouth has gone dry and your hands are shaking.
Stay calm and breathe slowly. Remember, being afraid is not a weakness, but a normal response to a real and perceived danger.
Walter Brennan is a training consultant specialising in personal safety and conflict
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This article is published in the 21 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading How to…defuse aggressive situations