Controlling Aggression

All extracts are taken from the “Safer Doors” book. Published by Geddes and Grossett. Copyright laws apply.

All door supervisors will encounter aggressive behaviour at some time or another. People sometimes get upset when things don’t go their way, and can get very emotional when trying to put a point across during an argument. Rude, insulting or antagonistic behaviour towards door supervisors is a regular occurrence, and to a certain extent they have to learn to ignore it and try to find out what the real problem is. Occasionally, however, people exceed what is generally seen as an acceptable or understandable level of aggression, and so door supervisors then have to react in an attempt to either diffuse the situation, or to use controlling or even defensive measures against the aggressor. Each situation needs to be assessed on its own merits, and the door supervisor must then react according to the threat to himself and to others.

Aggression may be defined as ‘an expression of violence or hostility, made verbally or physically by an individual in reaction to a situation’. Door supervisors need to be able to control their own aggression, and should certainly not adopt an aggressive attitude as a matter of course.

Door supervisors must learn to anticipate aggressive behaviour by others before it happens. They need to be aware of subjects or incidents that are most likely to bring out aggression in others, such as ejections and refusals to entry. They should know the appropriate laws and house policies, and understand which ones may be unpopular with some people.

They also need to identify ways of diffusing aggression so that they can avoid encounters turning into confrontational situations. Telling someone that they have had too much to drink as they join the end of the queue will get a more sensible reaction than if you wait for them to come all the way up to the front doors before letting them know that they cannot enter the premises.

Door supervisors should also have pre-planned answers to the most common sources of conflict. This is why knowing the law and house policies is so important here. Having set answers to peoples’ complaints and reasons for particular policies that they might not agree with or understand will help as well.

ANTICIPATE — AVOID — ANSWER

STAGES OF AGGRESSION
Provocation – Either party in an encounter can provoke the other towards aggression. If a door supervisor, for example, handles an encounter badly by being unsympathetic, rude or threatening towards a customer, then that may well provoke an aggressive reaction from them.

Door supervisors themselves should endeavour to diffuse potentially violent confrontations, and not to provoke the other party into behaving more aggressively than he already is. It is worth remembering here that some members of the public still have a negative stereotype of door supervisors, and that that in itself can provoke a bad reaction when spoken to by one.

Escalation – If a person is protesting to a door supervisor about a decision that has been made against him, and realises that that decision is not going to be changed, he may well increase his level of aggression in an effort to enforce his view or just to vent his anger. As the encounter escalates from an argumentative attitude to actual aggressive behaviour, the door supervisor needs to remain alert and be prepared to take control of the situation before it gets out of hand.

Confrontation – The final stage is the confrontation itself, when the person openly expresses his feelings of anger towards the other, either verbally or physically. It is here when door supervisors need to use effective communication skills to try to diffuse the situation, and if necessary to take control of the encounter. If physical violence is directed at the door supervisor, then he should instigate the appropriate defensive techniques, only using direct force against the other person if all other methods of diffusing the situation have failed. Unfortunately, in some situations only the appropriate use of reasonable force will stop the aggressive behaviour towards the door supervisor, other members of staff or customers.

USING COMMUNICATION
Door supervisors should try to use a set procedure to weigh up a situation, and to alter their actions to fit the level of resistance against them. If you ask a customer to do something and they refuse, it would obviously be totally unreasonable to use force straight away to make them carry out the request.

The pneumonic R E A C T is given to provide door supervisors with a guide as to how to escalate the level of control they use during an encounter or conflict.

R – request
E – explain
A – appeal
C – confirm
T – take action

The first stage is where the door supervisor asks a customer to comply with a request ie. to leave the premises. Whilst most people will do as they are asked to by a member of the security staff, some will refuse or want to argue the point, or will try to persuade the door supervisor to back down.

If the customer does not understand the request, or does not know why he is being asked to comply with it, then the supervisor should explain. He should be told which law or house policy he has breached, or what behaviour has caused the request.

Should the customer still refuse to comply with the request the supervisor should repeat it, and appeal to the customer to do what he is being asked, explaining what action will be taken if he still fails or refuses to comply. Someone refusing to leave licensed premises when asked, for example, should be told that he may be physically ejected from the premises by the door staff, or that the police will be called.

If the person still refuses to comply with your request, then before resorting to the use of force you should, for your own protection, just confirm that the person totally understands what you are asking him, and that he will not do as he has been asked. Using a phrase such as, “Is there anything I can say to you that will make you co-operate ?” gives the person one more chance to change his mind and comply, and is also a good defensible phrase for explaining why and how you have used force against another person.

The final stage when all other methods of persuasion have failed is to take action. In the case of the person refusing to leave the premises this will usually mean summoning the assistance of other supervisors and physically ejecting the person from the premises, using only the minimum amount of force required to effect your purpose.

If door supervisors follow this guide before using any amount of force during the course of their duties, then they should be able to answer any questions asked of them by way of justification for those actions. The person has been given four opportunities to comply with the request, so no-one can allege that he was not given the chance to do what he was asked before the resulting action was taken.

PREDICTING AGGRESSION
As an encounter escalates, and the aggressor becomes more emotional or angry about his position, door supervisors need to watch that person carefully so that they know when the situation is likely to progress to the use of violence by that person. Door supervisors normally get a gut-feeling when a confrontation is about to turn nasty, but they should also take note of the person’s body language in an attempt to predict any aggressive action he might take. Signs which might indicate an increase in the aggressive attitude of someone include using extended eye contact with the door supervisor, a more threatening facial expression, raised voice, change in body stance, head tilted slightly back, enlarged movements of hands and arms towards the door supervisor, moving closer towards him, or obvious fidgeting as he prepares to fight.

If door supervisors can learn to recognise these signals as preparation for violence, then they can prepare themselves both physically and mentally for any imminent attack. It also gives them time to summon assistance from either other door supervisors or from the police, and to consider in advance their options regarding the use of force.

PREDICTING ATTACK
Once this stage has been reached in the encounter the door supervisor must be on his guard for a physical attack. Again, he must closely observe the person’s body language which will give out signs to indicate when he is about to resort to direct violence. If the door supervisor misses or ignores these signs he will lose the advantage he has by being properly prepared.

The parts of the body that need watching if the supervisor thinks that an attack may be imminent are:-

HEAD – although the head is usually held slightly back as the person shows aggression, just before a physical attack it is dropped forward in an automatic motion to protect the throat.

EYES – the size of someone’s pupils can give important clues as to how they are feeling. During the early stages of aggression a person’s pupils dilate. Just before an attack, however, they contract in reaction to the feelings of anger or hatred. So a sudden contraction of the pupils is a good sign for door supervisors to take the appropriate defensive action.

Door supervisors themselves can use direct, unbroken eye contact to dissuade an aggressor from actually attacking. When used in conjunction with other assertive body language it can persuade the other person that you are ready for an attack, and that it might not be such a good idea for them to continue, as you are ready to defend yourself.

Just before a person hits something his natural action is to look at it. If you see your aggressor suddenly glance at your stomach area or chin, prepare for him to try to strike you there. As you are watching his eyes take note if he suddenly drops his eyebrows, as this also may be a sub-conscious action to protect the eyes during a fight.

LIPS – the lips often tighten over a person’s teeth just before launching an assault against another person. Either that or the lips are pulled back showing clenched teeth.

FACIAL COLOUR – people’s faces are usually full of colour when they are feeling worried or are under stress. If during a conflict, however, the face suddenly drains of colour it may be a sign of rage or loss of control, and that the use of physical violence is imminent.

BREATHING – breathing deepens visibly when someone is about to strike out. The chest can often be seen to rise and fall deeper and quicker just prior to an attack.

UPPER LIMBS – people naturally tense up their shoulders and arms when they are about to fight The shoulders tend to raise, the arms bend at the elbow and the main fighting tools, the fists, are usually clenched and raised above waist height. These, again, are usually the last signs you will see before the person strikes you.

LOWER LIMBS – in order to get the body into the best position to fight, someone about to attack will often turn slightly so that their body is at a slight angle to yours. This is normally done with their strongest arm raised and ready to strike. Often they will also drop slightly by bending their knees just before the attack.

Door supervisors must learn to recognise these warning signals in people in order to be able to correctly predict when someone is about to attack them.

REACTING TO AGGRESSION
If during a confrontation with someone you notice any of the warning signals mentioned previously, then you will not have long to react as the attack against you may not be far away.

You should immediately make more space between you and the aggressor by either moving back or by putting a hand up between you and him. If the person has already started to come towards you, use loud and assertive verbal commands such as “GET BACK”. This will let him know that you are ready to defend yourself, alert other members of the public to stand back, and will hopefully attract the attention of other door supervisors who may be able to come to assist.

You should adopt a defensive stance with your own open hands up above waist height in case you need to use physical means to defend yourself. Any force you use must be only that which is reasonable and necessary to avert the attack (see Use of Force).

The following list of do’s and dont’s should help you in the de-escalation process of confrontations, hopefully preventing them from progressing to physical acts of aggression.

DO’s

  • use effective monitoring techniques
  • make early interventions at incidents
  • be assertive
  • use relaxed and non-aggressive body language
  • speak in a firm but calm voice
  • adopt a consistant approach
  • ensure that you know relevant laws and house policies
  • make eye contact but avoid staring
  • stress your own, your companies and the legal position
  • allow aggressor to express his feelings
  • show that you are listening and are interested in his point of view
  • express understanding of the situation
  • take the heat out of the situation
  • use slow, calm and deliberate body movements
  • calm aggressor down prior to controlling his behaviour
  • control your own reactions to the situation
  • set a time limit to the confrontation, then be assertive and end it
  • breath slowly and evenly, control your voice and use it to calm and reassure
  • give assertive requests and then commands
  • give accurate reasons for your decisions
  • give aggressor plenty of space
  • watch his body language carefully
  • let offender save face
  • only use force as a last resort

DON’Ts

  • show an aggressive attitude
  • use intimidatory or authoritarian methods
  • use angry, hostile or insulting remarks
  • make threats
  • be condescending towards him or patronise him
  • use aggressive gestures like pointing or finger-wagging
  • give orders like “Shut up” or “Sit down”
  • show inattention or indifference to his feelings
  • invade his personal space
  • raise your voice unnecessarily
  • use prolonged eye contact
  • show distress, fear or aggression in you voice
  • take verbal attacks personally
  • respond to taunts or insults
  • make the aggressor feel foolish
  • let him play up to the crowd
  • walk away or turn your back while the aggressor is talking to you
  • be taken by surprise by conflict, be prepared

By following these guidelines door supervisors should be able to project a positive image during a confrontation, and predict when an aggressor is about to attack. This will increase the safety for the door supervisor, promote his levels of professionalism and promote community confidence in door staff generally.

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