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Strategies for Non-Escalation and De-Escalation

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Knowing when to pull your gun in self-defense, and more importantly, when not to, is critical in a de-escalation strategy. De-escalation and non-escalation are often overlooked aspects of training, but they are important exercises. Becoming well-versed in de-escalation, or better yet learning how to avoid bad situations altogether, means you’re more likely to keep your gun holstered. In short, mentally working through de-escalation and non-escalation techniques could prevent you from having the worst day of your life.

To learn more, we caught up with Dave Young, Co-Founder of Vistelar Training. Vistelar Training offers a wide variety of instruction focused on human conflict. One of the most sought-after training courses revolves around the principles of non-escalation and de-escalation. As a former Marine and law enforcement officer, Young has seen plenty of encounters and witnessed the value of de-escalation.

Non-Escalation vs. De-Escalation

Dave Young teaches a class of students in non-escalation techniques. (Photo: Vistelar/

Before we dive into specific strategies for de-escalation, let’s take a moment to understand non-escalation versus de-escalation. “Non-escalation strategies avoid the negative dance [while] de-escalation strategies help you manage the negative dance,” Young told us.

Simply put, non-escalation avoids a situation that could become elevated in stress, adrenaline, and the need for self-defense. Non-escalation is where, ideally, the majority of gun owners and non-gun owners alike should live.

Young laid out five strategies for non-escalation to keep gun owners safe.

Non-Escalation Tip #1: Treat EVERYONE with Dignity and Respect

Tip #1 harkens back to the Golden Rule — “Treat everyone how you would like to be treated.” This seems like a no-brainer, but dignity and respect often fly out the window when there is a disagreement between two parties. Young suggests focusing on empathy and understanding the perspectives of the other person.

“We seem to think that we can just talk belligerently, rudely, we can voice our prejudice, we can avoid what we like and what we don’t like, and it’s not going to offend others. That’s not treating people with dignity by showing them respect,” Young said. “We start by seeing the world through their eyes; this way, we can have empathy for the person that’s coming into contact with us.”

If you’re treating everyone who comes into contact with you with dignity and respect, it’s hard for a situation to escalate. This is not to say you can’t disagree, but when done with empathy and respect, disagreements will likely remain civil and non-violent.

Non-Escalation Tip #2: Be Alert and Decisive

This is what many instructors term “living in condition yellow.” Simply put, be aware of your surroundings. Put down the tech in your hands and actively engage in your environment. To do this effectively, Young gave a series of questions we should ask ourselves whenever we’re in public.

“Is it safe to approach that environment? Is that environment approaching me? What are my escape routes when I’m making contact with this person or this person’s making contact with me? What are my positions or cover? If things go bad, can I get to a place safely? What are my weapons of opportunity?” Young posited.

Whether you’re in New York City or hiking the Rocky Mountains, evaluating these questions and knowing these answers keeps you safer.

Non-Escalation Tip #3: Respond, Don’t React

Following tip #2, resist knee jerk reactions to a situation. If you’re working through the above questions, you should already have a well-formulated response. Responding, not reacting, to a situation is ideal.

“Safe is action that you’re ready to take when your life depends on it the most. That means you’re safe. If you’re not ready to take that action, then you’re the opposite of safe. You’re very, very unsafe. As we go through non-escalation strategies, we have to manage our communication alignment because that is really how we gauge people.” Young said.

Non-Escalation Tip #4: Managing Paraverbals and Proxemics

Keeping communication lines open and understanding that a majority of communication is non-verbal is just another way to avoid the negative dance. The old saying “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” rings true and, thus, paraverbal communication skills become even more necessary.

“The tone of your voice is the music your words dance to. Your tone of voice will be registered by another person that you’re confident, or you’re the opposite of confident, that you’re fearful or fearless. Tone of voice is often how we gauge a person’s emotional wellbeing,” Young told us. “Most people that aren’t trained stand too close, talk too loud, talk too fast, and then they want to touch.”

The goal of managing paraverbals is to keep a calm, even tone to your voice. If your voice becomes elevated, then you need to start thinking about exiting. Paraverbals refer to tone of voice, while proxemics relates to body language and distance.

“Proxemics is the measurement of distance, how far you stand from somebody. Positioning, where you center yourself from somebody, off shoulder somebody, and then hand placement, where are your hands?”

Hand placement is important because it can often indicate to the other person whether or not you have a gun. Similarly, how you position your body in relation to the contact and environment will either give you an easy exit or box you in.

How to De-Escalate

If you find yourself needing to de-escalate, that means things may have started to head south; but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Effectively navigating your way out of a situation can be the difference between going home to your family or going to jail.

There are some universal signs we can give when coming into contact with someone in a tense moment. A single hand or two hands extended out from your body, palms forward, is recognized as a signal to stop. Similarly, two hands held up in the letter “T” is widely recognized as “let’s take a timeout.” Small non-verbal communications often go a long way toward calming a setting.

An extended hand palm out is a universally recognized sign to stop. (Photo:

A common tactic Young points to is redirection, but he points out that it’s often misused. He gives the hypothetical situation of someone getting called a name, “Hey, you’re an idiot!” The incorrect redirection would be to reply, “Your mom’s an idiot.”

“You want to bring them back to professional language. You acknowledge what they say and redirect them back to professional language,” Young said. While bringing people back to professional language is a great first step, understand that to continue the conversation is to continue escalation. Instead, you should be thinking of an exit strategy.

“Part of de-escalation strategies is developing an exit strategy. Know when it’s time to be quiet and bow out gracefully,” Young said, “An exit means, right when this contact happens, I want to avoid it altogether. I always tell people to remember this short phrase — If you have to repeat yourself more than twice at a higher level of voice, you need to exit the area.”


Every disagreement doesn’t need to escalate into a fight, and understanding how to prevent this from happening is even more necessary when carrying a gun.
“If you look at taking a win by the gunfights you win, you’re way off base on even carrying a firearm,” Young said.

When you carry for self-defense, keep non-escalation and de-escalation techniques ever-present in your mind. Ultimately, you’ll be a safer and more responsible gun owner.

Putting the cart before the horse and don’t have a gun yet? Check out our selection of concealed carry handguns that are sure to please. 

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