We talked earlier about setting the bar so high that your desired objectives become unattainable, and the expectations you have for an individual may be too far above and beyond what they are able to achieve. (try our cpi training online or our crisis intervention certificate) We want to make sure we don’t do that. Instead, we want to make sure that we’re creating positive and achievable goals for an individual to reach, as well as ensuring we don’t discount the positive steps they are currently or already taking . For example, in the facility, I was working with young children at one point. Children can get angry very fast, and lash out before knowing they did it. Like a lot of people who should know better, kids tend to hit things. They hit walls, they hit other people, they hit trees, they hit vehicles, or what have you. They’ll lash out and hit whatever happens to be there in the moment. If they’re in crisis, they may act out to the point of self-harm, (potentially even breaking their hand) while doing the hitting.

To many people, the concept of somebody getting angry and hitting something is always a negative. They tell them, “Little Johnny, no hitting. Don’t hit him. Do this or do that instead.” Basically, they go down that road of telling Johnny, “Don’t do it. Don’t express your physical aggression in that manner.” This on its own, is a positive thing to try to teach. The problem is, that you’ve got little Johnny, with his tendency to hit other people because that’s all he’s been exposed to his whole life. He likely learned very early on, that when people get angry they hit other people. Now, he’s in the facility, and he doesn’t hit little Sally or little Timmy, but he runs over and punches the wall. Although I don’t want him hitting the wall, I do have to make sure I am not initially seeking perfection. Am I asking him to completely stop and change his behavior in too short a period of time, or should I be looking for small wins? Hitting a wall is far better than hitting someone else. I may not want to discourage or prevent him from hitting the wall as the first method of teaching him de-escalation. To eventually get him to the point where he doesn’t need to hit something, I’m looking for small steps.

Let’s say you’re dealing with somebody who has and edged weapon. They’ve got a knife, or other very dangerous sharpened item. If he or she has that knife, and is pointing it at you saying, “You better get the f*** out of my face, I’m going to stab you!” You’re standing there going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hey, wait a minute!” You’re trying to de-escalate. If there is even time to communicate (if you are lucky), you may try and demand that they drop the knife, but odds are against that happening. The knife is their power in that moment. It is their tool of intimidation. They are not likely to let it go. Something you may try would be, “Look, I know you’re upset, but can you do me a favor? Just while we’re talking. You don’t have to put the knife down, but can you just hold it down here to your side? Just point it down so its not pointed at me? You’re making me really nervous when you’ve got it pointed at me. I promise I won’t get any closer, and I don’t want to get hurt or hurt you. Trust me, I am not going to get any closer. You’ve got the knife. I don’t. I’m not here to hurt you. I want to help you get through this but its really hard to focus on helping you when its pointed right at me”

There’s nothing wrong with trying that and having the individual change position of where they are holding the knife. If they’re at least willing to move it from one position to one a little lower, you have won a bit of the battle. They started to take a positive step in the right direction. What’s the other alternative? Well, if you are Law Enforcement you have a gun, of course, which would be ideal as an added defense. You could probably put him/her down using a Taser as well if possible and appropriate. Yet if you are not LE and you are like the majority of people out there, you won’t have that luxury.

So, if you’re not law enforcement, and you don’t have anything to force them to put it down, and they’re verbally threatening you, (but not yet coming at you) that places you in a position of thinking about what you need to do. I’m going to de-escalate and try to get my little steps forward. I’m going to take those positive steps forward, and go for those simple results like getting them from holding the knife in a threatening position to holding down it at their side. They still have the knife, but they are slightly less threatening and it demonstrates that I can take control of the situation through skilled de-escalation.

It’s very important to communicate that you hear them, trust them, and you believe them. Reassure them that you aren’t going to move anywhere close to them. If they have moved the knife, let them know you appreciate their effort. Celebrate the small steps and the small victories. Remember, seek small improvements vs. perfection.