The raccoons were messing with me all night!

8:00 am.

A beautiful spring day in Aurora, Illinois with full sun and a slight breeze.

I got out of my car and headed for the front door of the homeless shelter, eager to start the workday.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone running in my direction.

I turned to see Michael. He wasn’t running, though. He was sprinting. Right. At. Me.

Michael has been homeless for a few decades.

Michael is twice my size.

Michael had leaves in his unkempt hair and his clothing had fresh mud.

When he got within 30 feet of me, Michael started screaming, “The raccoons were messing with me all night!”

I immediately knew what was happening:  

  • Michael had obviously been asked to leave the shelter the night before.
  • He had slept outside (with raccoons, apparently).
  • Now he wanted to complain to the Executive Director about last night’s staff.

I knew—from screwing it up in the past—that the next five seconds were crucial.

I turned to face Michael.

I made eye contact.

I smiled.

I put my hand out to shake his hand.

I said, “Good morning, Michael!” in my most welcoming voice.

Michael stopped five feet short of me, a look of slight confusion on his face.  

“Uh, good morning,” he said at half the volume of a moment earlier.

He shook my hand.

“Ummm… Do you have a minute to talk about what happened last night?”

You could almost see Michael’s Prefrontal Cortex regain control over his Amygdala.

Neuroscience Recap

Two weeks ago, we talked about how de-escalation is all about helping the other person’s Prefrontal Cortex to regain control over their Amygdala.  

  • De-Escalators are things you do that help the Prefrontal Cortex calm the person down.
  • Escalators are things you do that trigger the person’s Amygdala to be in fight or flight.

Last week we talked about how trauma can cause the person’s Amygdala to be hyperactive and the person’s Prefrontal Cortex to be suppressed.  

This can make de-escalation harder (and even more essential).

The First Five Seconds

The first five seconds of conflict is absolutely crucial.

  • If you do a lot of De-Escalators in the first five seconds, the person’s Prefrontal Cortex regains control more easily. Everything after that five seconds is MUCH easier.
  • If you do a lot of Escalators in the first five seconds, the person’s Amygdala gets fired up even more. Everything after that five seconds is MUCH harder.

None of the De-escalators I used with Michael were rocket science:

I turned to face Michael.

I made eye contact.

I smiled.

I put my hand out to shake his hand.

I said, “Good morning, Michael!” in my most welcoming voice.

They were neuroscience, though!!!

How you can use this

Oftentimes, we are busy or overwhelmed (or tired or hungry or whatever) and thus we don’t pay much attention to the first five seconds of conflict.

We accidentally do Escalators in the first five seconds.

The rest of the conflict is much harder then.

Put extra attention into the first five seconds and the rest of your day will go better!

Have a fantastic week!

Ryan

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