De-escalation Strategies During a Tough Conversation

Joshua StamperBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Manage Better, Reflect Better


  • There are a number of de-escalation strategies one can use to diffuse any tough conversation: (1) Move to a private area. (2) Be empathetic and non-judgmental. (3) Keep your tone and body language neutral. (4) Provide choices.
  • The Teach Better Academy course, Addressing Tough Topics in Schools, shares communication strategies for challenging topics in your school community.

As an Assistant Principal, I often walk the halls between periods. One day my radio went off asking me to meet with a parent. Typically, when an unannounced visit occurred, it was not a good sign. I didn’t have an appointment with any parents, and I didn’t know what kind of situation to expect. When I arrived in the front office, the parent was very upset. She was speaking very loudly to my secretary and office manager. Right away, I walked up to the mother, introduced myself, and thanked them for coming up to the campus. The mother was visibly emotional and flustered by the previous conversation. She had several young children, and there were other parents in the front office. I asked if they would like to meet with me in the conference room and the mother agreed. 

De-escalation Strategies #1: Move to a private area.

By moving away from public areas and into a different room, I was able to remove the audience, additional noise, and additional variables.

When I asked the parent how I could help, the parent explained that they were promised an internet router by the district to use at their home. Without internet access, their child was unable to complete the online work. They had been at three different locations and no one had any idea of what she was talking about. The mother began to cry and I listened to her entire story.

De-escalation Strategies #2: Be empathetic and non-judgmental.

Focus on understanding the person’s feelings. Whether or not you think those feelings are justified, they’re real to the other person.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the mother’s anger, which was displayed earlier, was due to frustration. I had no idea what she was talking about regarding the district device. I calmly stated, “I will do everything possible to find the router for your child.” 

In our new Addressing Tough Topics in Schools course, Erin Healey and I share communication strategies on challenging topics as you enter your classroom and the broader community. Click To Tweet

De-escalation Strategies #3: Keep your tone and body language neutral. (Be a window, not a mirror.)

The more a person loses control, the less they hear your words, and the more they react to your nonverbal communication. Relax your body and keep your hands in front of you, and speak calmly. 

My first call on the radio was to our technology coach, and I asked him if he was contacted by the district about a router. He immediately said, “Yes! I’ll bring it right up.” The mother dropped her head and began to cry tears of joy. Our technology coach brought the router and let us know the steps needed for her to check out the device. One of the steps was for her to show us her identification to prove she was the mother. Unfortunately, the mother was so flustered in the whole process that she couldn’t find her wallet. She began to breathe heavily and frantically look through her purse and jacket pockets. 

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De-escalation Strategies #4: Provide choices.

Carefully consider which rules are negotiable and which rules are not. If you can offer a person options and flexibility, you may be able to avoid unnecessary altercations.

I could see the worry on her face and I asked, “Do you want to go to your car to see if your driver’s license is there? Or if you need to go home, I will make sure I keep the router until you arrive with your ID.” She decided to run to her car quickly. In a matter of minutes, the mother came back with a huge grin on her face. She had her ID. I got her to sign a document, and I verified her identity. By the end of the conversation, it was like I was speaking to a different person. The stress and worry were gone. 

Of course, not all conflicts, tough conversations, or de-escalation strategies end in a quick resolution. However, by using the strategies provided, I was able to establish a positive relationship with the mother, stabilize high emotions, and discover a solution with the information gained. 

In our new Addressing Tough Topics in Schools course, Erin Healey and I share communication strategies on challenging topics as you enter your classroom and the broader community. As educators tackle these tough conversations with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, this course shares de-escalation ideas, enhances structures to create safe zones for all, and provides creative ways to connect your content to relevant topics. You won’t want to miss this incredible educational resource!

About Joshua Stamper

Joshua Stamper is the Training and Development Specialist for the Teach Better Team and manages the Teach Better Podcast Network. Prior to Joshua’s current position, he was a middle school Administrator, classroom art educator, and athletic coach.

In addition to being on the Teach Better Team, Joshua is the author of Aspire to Lead, podcaster, leadership coach, and education presenter.

You can follow Joshua on social media @Joshua__Stamper and visit his website at