Saturday, July 15, 2017

Deescalating the Anxiety

In the past month there have been three instances where I consciously deescalated the anxiety of a person or group. One at work, one in the Bugaboos, and then one I won't mention the situation. I've done this for years, but only recently have I been able to articulate it.

What does it mean to deescalate? According to Google/Safari It means to "reduce the intensity of (a conflict or potentially violent situation)." Anxiety on the other hand I think of as self induced stress.

First I'll tell the Bugaboos example. The second pitch on Pigeon Spire my climbing partner comes up over the ridge to the belay and the look on his face said "I'M FREAKING OUT!!" So I asked him on a scale of 1 to 10 how much he was freaking out, and he said "SEVEN!! ... six." So I tried to get him to relax a bit by looking out away from the rock and potential fall, at the gear, taking a drink, and telling him how well he was doing, making a joke, and basically having a comforting demeanor myself. When he saw how unfazed I was he calmed down, and really enjoyed the rest of the climb. Those are standard ways to calm a person down, a more advanced tactic is to escalate the fear briefly for a minute or few second even, because showing that it was all a rouse, an act, often gets a person too scared to laugh, to actually relax a bit and laugh. However, that can backfire and I've been sworn at before when I misjudged that tactic.

Second we had a day at work where everyone seemed on edge and stressed out, myself included. So I told everyone how well they were doing, we went for a little 10 minute walk around the parking lot, and again I tried to tell a couple jokes to lighten the mood. It's easy to get the idea that our little thing we are working on is so critical, and the reality is it can wait, the world isn't ending. I think it worked, the mood was a little better an hour later, and the next day people were in pretty good moods.

So, when you see that others have fear and anxiety that might be preventing them from accomplishing the task at hand what can you do?

  • Be calm, speak calmly, don't express your emotions with yelling and anger.
  • Tell a joke, not a crude hate filled joke, but something light to ease the tension.
  • Compliment the person with the anxiety. It's hard to be stressed out when people are telling you you did a good job on something. 
  • Give the person something else to focus on, a small easy to accomplish task, that only takes a few minutes, like coiling the rope on a rock climb, or emailing me the contact information for a certain person at XYZ factory.
  • An advanced technique is to briefly escalate the anxiety for a few minutes, a facade really, but in the business setting use something that is clearly out of your influence or irrelevant to the project, because you cannot "invent" a true problem, like you can while rock climbing. Then deescalate quickly so that the person with anxiety thinks, 'well at least this is not as bad at that terrible thing happening!' Here is an example: not scared person, "Uh oh... I think the rope might be cut." Scared person, "WHAT!?!" Not scared person, "Sorry, my mistake it's fine, it's just the way it was coiled there. We are fine, look this rope is rated to hold 6000 pounds and it's in perfect condition."

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