Resources for de-escalation IRL
August 24, 2018 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I live in Portland, Oregon, so I don't want to call the police when I, for real example, see a physical fight break out/about to break out. What are the best books to read on how to de-escalate? That is, what can I, as a person not in a position of authority, do to break up verbal/physical altercations? What are the go-to books on de-escalation for when the people arguing/fighting are already 'in the zone'?

I walk and bike, so I see more than people who get around by car might, and I'm more likely to go places where humans can be. Early this morning I was bikepooling to work, and we stopped because there was a shouting match between two strangers** and we wanted to be present in case they needed anything.* I have read NonViolent Communication but that seems like it's more for before it gets to this point where thing are boiling over & where I have no/limited context.

This is not the first fight I've seen here in Portland, and it's not the last fight I'm ever going to see. I want to know when to step in, and how, and when to stay out of it, and how to decide if there's ever a situation where it's appropriate to call the police, given that I more or less think it's never appropriate to call in people with guns. Is this all mediation training? If so, trainings with the local option are closed until fall, and they're very popular.

Mediation, to my understanding, only works when both parties are interested in coming to a resolution, which in the heat of the moment neither of them seemed to be. Maybe there's a way I could have gotten them there. Maybe there wasn't. How to assess; what things to say and when to say them? Are there some other key words I should be looking for? I'm looking for books.

This is not about developing courage or learning how to stay calm. I am aware of martial arts and I'm pretty sure that's not the type of resource I'm looking for at this time. I have more or less physically stepped in a few times when I was a person with an obvious responsibility to a space (bike collective; temporary housing shelter), but in those situations I was able to just repeatedly tell people -- even though they were 'in the zone' -- to take the fight off the property and it mostly just sort of worked.

In part, I think, it that when it worked, it just sort of worked by me being a relative stranger or vague acquaintance with a responsibility to the space, and in part by me being a woman (and thus presumably thought of as non-threatening) who isn't trying to fight either of them. This is the part that interests me. When it works, HOW does it work? What can I do to do that on purpose rather than bumbling through, and in other contexts? What are the de-escalation things to say? Resources for learning that sort of thing.

* We stopped in case we could help, watched a physical fight break out, my partner called the police after a couple warnings (which neither of us really wanted), the fight broke up, my partner got off the phone with 911, the people fighting separated themselves to their respective house and tent, we went to work, the police apparently showed up anyway, and nobody pressed charges.

** later a third person came out of the house to use what looked like the largest single-handled cooking pot in the house.
posted by aniola to Human Relations (5 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not sure about specific resources but the phrase you're looking for is "bystander intervention training."
posted by griphus at 2:08 PM on August 24, 2018

Best answer: I have broken up arguments a few times in Portland. In the cases where it was headed toward a physical altercation, it worked because I just stepped in between them and asked some inane question about the weather or something. I am a white middle-class lady, and hitting me is probably going to make your day worse (bystanders will step in, security will be called, no one will think it's my fault). So if you have that kind of privilege, you can use it constructively.

I've also seen people who know each other arguing in escalating ways and broken in with "hey, is everything okay? Do you need (water, directions, whatever is plausible)?" You can also ask for directions or what time it is or whatever, you're basically reminding them that people are watching and are not going to let this shit go down here. (And once in a while they do actually just need to know where to catch the bus.)

IME, what works is showing up and making noise and getting into the fray as much as is safe (and assuming the folks involved are sufficiently sober / with it to react "normally"). Standing nearby watching a fight is probably just going to turn up the tension, if anything.

Green Dot training is probably of interest, I've seen free online resources for this.
posted by momus_window at 2:08 PM on August 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: the phrase you're looking for is "bystander intervention training."

Southern Poverty Law Center has a good one pager about bystander intervention. It's for campuses but there's a lot of useful information.
posted by jessamyn at 2:30 PM on August 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I use polite interruption all the time. It works well as a white person. “Oh hey, do you happen to have any baby wipes? So weird but my dog is getting over this illness, you know how it is...” Or “Can you all tell me how to get to _______? My friend told me there’s a good place with these sandwiches that are just blah blah blah etc” I’ve found that a question works well especially if I can dial in a sort of oblivious/clueless vibe and throw in some chatter. I’m fine with people thinking I’m a wacko if it works to interrupt the situation. Plus there have been times where I know people understand what I’m doing, but the effect is the same - it pauses the conflict and that can really deescalate things.
posted by fleecy socks at 2:53 PM on August 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Bystander intervention training materials from the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition can be found here.
posted by sutureselves at 8:27 AM on August 25, 2018

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