Active listening skills are useful in all aspects of social interaction, they help convey to the other person we are actively engaged, we care, and we are listening. They are particularly helpful in de-escalating an angry person who may become violent. When you use active listening skills, you are not only hearing the words a person says but reading the complete message communicated verbally and non-verbally. Here, we discuss 4 active listening skills that can help you defuse a potentially violent situation.
1. Mind your verbal and non-verbal communication
Verbal communication is simply what we say, and how we say it. In verbal communication, we may consider the content of what we are saying, and also our speech patterns. The rate, tone, inflection and volume of your voice are important factors to consider when de-escalating a dangerous situation.
On the other hand, non-verbal communication is extremely important in violence prevention. Studies have shown that when communication is broken down, 7% is verbal (words that are spoken), 38% is vocal (the tone and pitch in your voice), and 55% is nonverbal messages. When using active listening skills, you will need to pay attention to the person’s nonverbal signals such as facial expressions and body language.
- Non-verbal communication includes your body language and how you physically approach a situation.
It is important your body language (or non-verbal communication) be congruent with what you are saying verbally. You are more likely to be considered authentic in your presentation if your verbal and non-verbal communication match.
2. Be aware of your own facial expressions
Facial expressions are considered the most significant way we provide non-verbal communication to one another. For these reasons, it is important to focus on maintaining a calm demeanor and facial expressions whenever we’re listening to a person in crisis.
3. Communicate effectively through body language
While words, or verbal communication can be misleading at times, body language is usually dependable. Body language is another nonverbal way of communicating and refers to the gestures, movements, and mannerisms by which a person communicates with others.
Body language includes:
Harmony between verbal and nonverbal communication can indicate trustworthiness
Body language can quickly assist us in de-escalating a potential crisis situation by assessing the angry person’s body language and controlling our own.
How your body language can defuse or worsen a crisis
When we’re using active listening skills, we must also be aware of our body language, otherwise we can inadvertently send the wrong message and worsen a delicate situation. For example, if you’re dealing with an angry client and stand in front of him with legs hips width apart and arms crossed, you could signal an authoritative gesture. If you are looking to approach someone in an open way to build rapport, this may not be the stance to utilize and could instead, make a person escalate.
- Leaning your body forward, speaking fast, and using animated hand movements during conversation can convey to someone that you are discussing something important and it’s time for others to join in on the matter.
- Conversely, leaning backward in conversation, with slow rate of speech, and slower body movements can send a message of caution when considering the message
These simple nonverbal intricacies can completely change the message received.
4. Know the power of eye contact
Eye contact is also a very important part of non-verbal communication that is part of one’s facial expression. Skilled professionals are aware of the power of eye contact. Enough eye contact can make one feel that you are being attentive and interested in what they have to say.
On the other hand, too much eye contact can make an individual feel nervous, uncomfortable, or even threatened. If we have an individual who may be experiencing a mental health issue and they are exhibiting signs of paranoia, it may not be useful to stare at them and maintain intense eye contact, as they may perceive this as a threat.
Generally speaking, eye contact can convey the following: if they are maintaining eye contact, they are relaying an interest in what you are saying.
Here are other tips to help you decode eye contact:
- Looking down and away may be a sign of modesty.
- When someone looks up during a conversation, it may be because the person is trying to recall information.
- Not maintaining eye contact can be considered a sign that one may not be telling the truth.
- Staring should be avoided, as this can be considered an aggressive act by some.
- Usually, someone who is smiling and maintaining eye contact may appear happy or approachable.
- Someone who may avoid eye contact, blush, or avoid people, may be embarrassed.
- Individuals who are fearful tend to be wide-eyed or nervously looking around.
- An individual who is worried may look down, start to pace, fidget, and cannot focus on the issue at hand. An individual who is surprised may jump back and have an opened mouth.
- Someone who is skeptical may squint their eyes or even tilt their head down in a pronounced way.
 Gabor, D., Baritz, M., & Repanovici, A. (2015). The study of stimulated visual behavior related to nonverbal communication. Procedia Technology, 19,1102-1108, doi: 10.1016/j.protcy.2015.02.157
 Cesario, J. & Higgins, E. (2008). Making message recipients “feel right”: How nonverbal cues can increase persuasion. Psychological Science. 19(5). doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02102.x.