THE MAGAZINE

Situational Awareness

By Scott Taylor, CPP


Verbal Skills

In addition to learning to position themselves correctly, officers must know what to say. Effective verbal de-escalation techniques are a true art form. To be able to verbally de-escalate conflicts takes patience, tact, and complete control of pride and ego.

A key aspect of minimizing any security conflict is to understand that it is not personal. In the case of entertainment environments, the patron is merely venting towards the authority the officer represents, not to the officer personally. It is security’s authority or the authority it represents that is not allowing the patron to enter the property or to have that one last drink. Once security officers realize that the conflict is not personally aimed at them, it is much easier to handle the conflict with empathy and impartiality.

The goal in these types of conflicts is to redirect the patron’s behavior and achieve compliance through verbal techniques. Security needs to minimize the patron’s stress and frustration as this can lead to anger, which can obviously lead to violence. Therefore, the following steps are crucial.

Obtain their name. Getting the patron’s name breaks the ice and makes the conversation more personal. The patron is more likely to listen if addressed by name.

Use active listening. By clarifying, paraphrasing, and asking open-ended questions, the security officer can help to ensure that the person is aware that the officer understands the patron’s frustrations completely. This helps to lower frustration levels.

Slow down. The officer should speak slowly and suspend judgment. Empathy is critical during conflict situations. Even if the officer does not agree with the patron’s position, understanding the patron’s point of view can help resolve the conflict.

Get them to say yes. It is difficult for someone to stay angry if they are agreeing with you. By using clarifying questions and providing summaries during the conversation, the officer can get the patron to use words to vent frustration. For example, the officer might clarify: “So you are feeling frustrated because you can’t go back into the bar, is that right?” If the officer is correct, the patron will say “yes” and the more the patron says “yes,” the quicker the conflict will de-escalate.

Don’t use clichés. Officers should avoid using worn out phrases, which can indicate that they are not truly listening. The worst of these phrases is: “calm down.” The patron is not capable of calming down on command nor are they inclined to do so. Instead, the situation deteriorates.

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