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  • Writer's pictureNathan Fredrickson

Identifying the Warning Signs of Escalation

There are several warning signs to watch for in the de-escalation process. These warning signs can manifest themselves verbally or non-verbally.

Verbal Warning Signs

  • Threats - A threat can come in several forms. The agitated individual may threaten you directly, or be more subtle about it. A threat can also be conditional whereby someone says, “If this doesn’t happen, I will do this.”

  • Increased Vocal Pitch - When an individual is agitated their voice often becomes higher in pitch.

  • Repetition - The agitated individual may use the same words or phrases over and over again. They may fixated on one or more perceived wrongs.

  • Laughing Inappropriately - Although the potential aggressor’s concerns are not a laughing matter, they may nervously laugh at inappropriate times. Laughing is a way the body attempts to shed emotions.

  • Yelling or Screaming - The agitated person raises their voice to the point that they are obviously talking loud enough for others to hear them.

  • Non-Stop Profanity - The individual’s language is filled with obscenities. This is one of the reasons it is encouraged to find a more private location to attempt to de-escalate the agitated individual.

Non-Verbal Signs of Impending Violence

  • Violating Your Personal Space - The agitated person who has escalated to the point where violence may occur may attempt to intimidate you by stepping into your personal space.

  • Finger Pointing - This highly confrontational act has the potential to trigger a stress response in you, making you angry and defensive.

  • Making Fists - Clenching fists, cracking knuckles or fidgeting with their hands are a clear sign of increased aggravation.

  • Face Flushed - This happens as a response to increased blood flow due to feelings of extreme anger.

  • Heavy Breathing - The anger response can lead to the individual breathing shallow breaths as if they had recently physically exerted themselves.

  • Flaring Nostrils - This physical response is often a result of needing to get more oxygen due to heavy breathing. It can signal the individual’s intention to act out their aggression physically.

  • Eye Contact - A potential aggressor may increase the level of eye contact as a way to intimidate you or they may avert their eyes while discussing what is making them angry. The latter can be a sign the individual may be having difficulty expressing how they feel, which could make them more frustrated and angry.

  • Blocks Egress - If the individual has blocked your path to safety, consider this a clear indication that the aggressor is about to become physically violent.

REMEMBER: When confronted by a potentially violent individual, allow yourself to breathe slowly and deeply to remain calm. Use your Situational Awareness training to be aware of the signs of possible physical aggression before they have the potential to become violent.

One of our most popular training sessions is De-Escalation. This training is ideal for any business or organization that works with the public. Contact Nate Fredrickson today to find out more: 605-601-4657 or

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