De-Escalation Part 3

In this segment – How To Set Limits – we want to provide some guidance on some proven ways to steer a bad situation back on track and help an angry person make more positive choices.  We will focus on four parts:

  1. Recognizing the difference between setting a limit and issuing an ultimatum.
  2. Ways to set limits that make the person feel respected and supported.
  3. The 5- step approach to limit-setting endorsed by the Crisis Prevention Institute.
  4. Preventive verbal, and nonverbal ways to set limits.

When you set effective limits, you are using one of the most powerful tools to gain a person’s cooperation because knowing there are limits on their behavior can help people make better and appropriate choices. 

Just remember, be flexible, respectful, and creative in your limit-setting and you will promote more positive behavior change.

A Few Tips To Ensure Success

Setting a limit is not the same as giving an ultimatum.  Limits are not threats.  As previously stated, they offer choices with consequences.  For example, “if you choose to do this, you will then impose the attached consequence.”

The purpose of limits is to teach, not to punish.  Limits help people understand that their actions, positive or negative, result in predictable consequences. And by providing realistic and motivating choices, you lay the foundation for good decision-making. 

Setting limits is more about listening than talking.

Taking the time to truly listen will help you better understand what’s really important to them, and that will help you set more meaningful limits.

To be really effective, we must learn to see a situation from the other person’s point of view.  Can they feel your kindness or your frustration?  Be mindful of your own behavior and speech and how it affects the other person.

­­­­­­­­­­Suggested Steps To Setting Limits

Explain which behavior is inappropriate

Simply saying “Stop that!” may not be enough. The person may not know if you’re objecting to how loudly they’re talking or to the language they’re using. Be specific.

Explain why the behavior is inappropriate

Again, don’t assume that the person knows why their behavior is not acceptable. Are they disturbing others and restricting their work? Being disrespectful? Not doing an assigned task.

Give reasonable choices with attached consequences

Instead of issuing an ultimatum like “Do it or else”, tell the person what their choices are, and what the consequences of those choices will be.

For example, if you choose not to come to work in a timely and predictable manner, you may self-inflict your own termination. Ultimatums often lead to power struggles because no one wants to be forced to do something. By providing choices with consequences, you admit that you cannot force the person’s decision. But you can and must enforce the consequences of their choice, thus the term “self-inflicted.”

Allow sufficient time

Generally, it’s best to allow the person a few moments to make their decision. Remember that if they’re upset, they may not be thinking clearly. It may take longer for them to think through what you’ve said.

Be prepared to enforce the consequences

Limit-setting is meaningless if you don’t consistently enforce the consequences you’ve set. For this very reason, it’s important to set consequences that are enforceable and reasonable within your authority and consistent with your organization’s policies and procedures.

    Now for some Verbal and Nonverbal ways to set limits.

    We have all heard the expression, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” – how you say something is as important as what you say.  Here are some thoughts for showing and telling someone that you’re really there to help them.

    • Use personal space, body language, and communication appropriate to the situation and your relationship with the individual. You might try moving a little closer to the person without violating their personal space, making eye contact, nodding or shaking your head to communicate or reinforce limits.
    • State what is allowed or provided without telling the person what to do. “Let’s review your behavior against the company’s policy on harassment and offensive and unwelcome behavior.
    • Weigh the choices and, wherever possible, offer positive options. This approach incorporates personal decision-making and can result in positive outcomes. “How can I help you?”
    • State and encourage the employee’s best choice. Do this before introducing consequences or negative outcomes or choices.
    • And finally, be prepared to redirect the person back to the topic or problem. Often the person’s attention drifts. Help them to refocus on the desired outcomes.

    An upset person may not be able to focus on everything you say.  You need to be clear, speak simply, and offer the positive choice first. If you fail to state the positive choice first, they may not even hear it.

    We hope these three segments on de-escalation have provided you with some thought-provoking ideas to help in intervening into some emotionally charged situations.  As always, additional help and guidance is a close as your local Express office.  Until next time, this is Russ Moen for Express Pro Talks.