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  • Writer's pictureSAFE Bar Network

4 Easy Steps to De-escalate Any Situation

It's summer in America. A time for gatherings and adventures, days spent splashing at the lake, lounging at the beach, and evenings out with family and friends. For many people, that means enjoying a few cold drinks and toasting to a never-ending summer.

It is no secret that in social settings with alcohol we see people cross boundaries, use alcohol as a tool to excuse their bad behavior or make people uncomfortable, and isolate people from others.

There is always something we can do to check in and help out. In every situation, de-escalation is our superpower.


The goal of de-escalation is simple, to quickly build rapport and a sense of connection with someone who is agitated. We do this with words, body-language, and by controlling our own emotions to be calm and reassuring.


De-escalation Basics


Step 1: Listen to the person’s concerns.


Step 2: Reflect back and summarize their thoughts to show that you are listening.


Step 3: When a person challenges your authority, redirect their attention to the issue at hand. Ignore the challenge, and bring their focus back to how you can work together to solve the problem.


Step 4: Offer concise and respectful choices and consequences. Be clear, speak simply, and offer the positive choice first.


Skills in Action


Here is the scenario, I see someone approach my friend. At first my friend is having a good time but a few minutes later I notice the person is touching my friend, not respecting their no, and getting aggressive.


Before I approach, I have to make sure I’m calm. I put down my drink and ask a friend to keep an eye on it for me. I take a sip of my water and then I take a deep breath.


Step 1: I calmly walk over to my friend and the person causing the problem and ask, “is everything okay”. My friend shakes their head no and the person making my friend uncomfortable starts rambling on about how my friend led them on.


Step 2: I nod my head to show that I’m listening and say, “okay, it sounds like you were having fun to start with but now you are not having a good time”. The person making my friend uncomfortable says, “Yeah, your friend is ruining my night and you owe me for the drink that I bought them”.


Step 3: I ignore the person’s comment and say, “I hear you, it sounds like you’re not having a good time together over here.”


Step 4: I say to my friend and the person making them uncomfortable, “The way I see it you have two options. You can go your separate ways and get back to having fun or you can continue to try to prove your point and I can let the manager know you’re making people uncomfortable.”


In an ideal world, the person making my friend uncomfortable chooses the positive option and walks away, leaves the venue, or goes back to their group of friends.


Give Support. Get Support.


There are going to be times when you check in and help out and it feels really good. But there are also going to be times when you try to help someone and it’s a bit more complicated. Maybe it doesn’t feel good. Maybe you’re not sure how to feel. Talk to someone about what happened and when the time comes, be ready to pay it forward by offering support to someone else.


Want more? You can brush up on your active bystander skills at

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