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How to Diffuse a Violent Person's Emotions and De-Escalate an Explosive Situation

by Lauri Revilla

An old Chines proverb says "If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow." Knowing how to de-escalate a potentially violent situation can be a life-saving skill. The goal of diffusing a violent person's emotions is to help him reach a point where he is no longer a threat to himself or those around him. By staying calm and helping the angry individual do so as well, you will save yourself and others from harm.

Assess the Person and the Situation

The first step in dealing with a potential crisis is to look for warning signs that a person may become violent. The most common verbal cues are expressing threats, using profanity, using a tone that is too loud or quiet or suddenly becoming silent. A person's body language is also a good indication of his state of mind. When people are physically agitated, they often pace, fidget, shake or sweat profusely. It is also very important to assess if there is any indication that you or those around are in imminent danger. Look for signs of a concealed weapon, such as an unnatural gait, a visible bulge, clothing hanging awkwardly on one side and palming. Scan the area for objects that could possibly be used to inflict harm on someone else.

Control Your Own Emotions and Stance

Take control of your own emotions. Your anxiety and fear can be a trigger for the potentially violent person. Maintain a calm, centered and self-assured attitude at all times. Address the person using a low and monotonous tone. Body language and stance can also play a big role in provoking the other person. Try to stand between the individual and the door at a comfortable distance of about three feet with your body at an angle. Ensure that you are not conveying defensiveness or fear by crossing your arms, avoiding eye contact or shaking. A common, yet grave, mistake that is often committed in a situation like this is to use humor or smiling at the other person. This will only make the situation worse and can result in the other person feeling mocked or minimized.

Discuss the Person's Emotions and Concerns

A person's frustration combined with feelings that he is not heard or understood often leads to crisis situations. The first step is to let the other person know that you will listen to what they have to say. Empathize with his feelings, but not with his behavior. For example, you can say "I understand you are angry, but it is not acceptable to yell and curse at me." Give the other person options and emphasize how his concerns can be handled more effectively once he has calmed down with statements like "If we talk about it after you take a walk we can problem-solve your situation." Avoid using statements that challenge, give commands, lay judgement or disrespect the individual. It is also important to constantly assess his state throughout the conversation. Keep in mind that your goal is to help the person reach a point where he is no longer a threat. It is not time for a teaching moment or intervention with the individual.

Create a Plan for the Future

Once the person begins to calm down it is important to start shifting the conversation and focus away from the present situation. Start making plans of how you will problem-solve the situation in the future. Ask the angry individual what assistance he needs to deal with his situation. During your conversation, always remain positive and centered. Don't make optimistic promises that you won't be able to keep.The goal of the planning phase is to get the potentially violent person to shift gears into thinking about the future. This will distract him from the anger and violent thoughts he is having in the present moment.

About the Author

Lauri Revilla has been writing articles on mental health, wellness, relationships and lifestyle for more than six years. She moved to San Antonio, Texas, from Mexico in 2006. She holds a Master of Science in Psychology from Our Lady of the Lake University.

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