Best Of 2021: Threat and De-escalation


In 2021, we dipped our toe back into the return to social interaction, and found it was quite challenging. After months upon months of working at home and not interacting with people outside of our household, the re-entry into a semblance of normal life meant some people lost their ability to interact as respectful and collaborative adults. We saw this inability on display during flights with unruly passengers, at restaurants with caustic diners, and in the office, when hard-working security guards simply reminded people to put a mask on to enter the building, only to be met with disagreeable attitudes.

We know from science that even though we are social creatures by design, when we’re in a state of threat we can easily revert to our animal instincts and fight with each other. Here are some of our greatest hits – no pun intended – on threat, de-escalation, and the skills we need to get along.

Blogs on Threat and De-escalation

Four people arguing at a meeting tableThe Most Necessary Management Skill of 2021: De-escalation
Cliff David and Joy VerPlanck, D.E.T.
When you understand that the brain responds to social threats the same way it does to physical threats, it becomes easier to recognize what triggers people.

shadows of people yelling at each otherWe’re All First Responders Now. You’d Better Train For It.
Joy VerPlanck, D.E.T.Awareness of threat and the cycle of escalation isn’t enough. It takes practice to hone the skills to reduce emotions that lead to conflict.

rock on one side of seesaw and person flies off the other sideThe State of Discontent: Three Strategies To Create a Culture of Satisfaction
Sherilyn George-Clinton and Joy VerPlanck, D.E.T.Sometimes people react to discontent and threat by fleeing, instead of fighting. Here’s how to counter that effect.


De-Escalation Insights from 2021
Q&A with Joy VerPlanck


Many of us equate the word “de-escalation” with law enforcement, especially in 2020-2021 as the need for de-escalation training was brought to global attention. But when NLI rolled out free briefings to law enforcement and created content for our clients, one of the biggest insights for public and private sectors audiences alike was that the presence of power actually escalates. It turns out one of the most significant things we can do to prevent or stop aggressive behavior from escalating further is to disrupt the cycle before calling an authority figure. This puts the requirement for de-escalation training upon each of us that has direct human contact, and ideally at the lowest level of power possible.

What’s one top trend you’re seeing that will impact organizations in 2022?

Unfortunately, the most significant impact is the trend of compounding stress affecting employees, customers, and leaders. If you think about the industries experiencing the most public displays of aggressive behavior, it’s really happening in places that didn’t get much respite from people under stress–such as healthcare and restaurants. When those same stressed out people took to travel, that aggression took to the skies. Next year employers are likely to find that much of the stress that caused people to quit their jobs in record numbers didn’t disappear when they started a new job–in many cases they’re just taking it with them. Once the novelty wears off we’ll see that same aggressive behavior in offices, at call centers, in email exchanges, and on virtual platforms.

What’s one habit you’re planning on implementing or changing next year? 

One of the things I’ve learned by researching an overloaded brain is that we’re often in control of our own cognitive capacity, and by not addressing it we’re allowing our brains to run inefficiently. When I find myself struggling to juggle tasks and getting overwhelmed, I’m going to practice labeling that struggle as “overload,” because that one simple process can create a disruption in an unproductive spin cycle. Taking pause allows me to step back and observe the noise, and find where I need to prioritize or simplify.

For more from Joy, visit her LinkedIn Profile.