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How to De-Escalate a Difficult Person

Posted - March 2, 2023
de-escalate a challenging person

Dealing with difficult people either in an interview or at a site visit (if you are doing regulatory case) is never fun. If you experience someone who is agitated and aggressive, it’s important to know how to keep the situation calm and de-escalate. What do we do in the midst of it, is key.

1. Stay calm and keep you voice low

Firstly, to de-escalate a difficult person we never meet a bad attitude or behaviour with the same behaviour. We have to be adept at bringing people back down. If we meet their behaviour, we will get a stacking effect where everyone becomes upset and nobody gets to a better place. When you’re dealing with somebody who’s losing their control, being very loud, or trying to intimidate you, take a beat. Then lower your voice, stay calm, and let them know you are listening. Say something like, “OK listen I want to hear what you have to say”.  Don’t put yourself in a position where you appear to be challenging that person, because that will only lead to them wanting to take it to a new level. You don’t want that.

2. Use neutral language

What you want to do in this situation is maintain a calm voice and use neutral language. Don’t challenge them and don’t question why they’re doing something. Don’t say, “Why would you behave like this?”. It is better to acknowledge them with something like, “You are clearly upset and I am not here to upset you. Let’s try to talk about this to get to a better place. I’m willing to do that and I hope you are too.” If we get aggressive or try to exert some level of authority, it’s generally not going to get to a good place. 

Even if you calm that person down through some level of intimidation, it will likely come back to haunt you later. They could seek representation and say that you made certain comments in a meeting.

You are held to higher standard, always remember that. Above all, don’t forget that you are ‘on tape’. You always want to be seen on the recording as a reasonable, calm, and rational individual. Don’t let someone’s bad behaviour get the better of you. 

3. Don’t stop them if they have to walk out of the room

At the end of the day, your efforts to de-escalate may not work. If they walk out of the room, that’s fine. Be willing to let them walk out of the room if the behaviour appears to be escalating to the point where you’re at an unacceptable risk to your safety. You never want to be in a situation you can’t control.