Ask yourself: what are the risks? Are those involved likely to be reasonable, or are they highly anxious? How many conflicts are there and which is most important? Is the conflict about a misunderstanding, about wanting different things, or is it driven by emotions? Ask yourself why. Why here? Why now? It is really important to take time to assess the situation, and to understand the risks involved.

The RAC – Risk, Anxiety, Complexity

Is it high risk? (Am I, or others, likely to get hurt?)
Is it high anxiety? (Are they thinking clearly? Will I be able to get through to them?)
Is it high complexity? (Are there lots of issues here? Are other people involved? Is there history? Are there high emotions?)


If the risk is high, then your priority is to reduce the risk. If this isn’t possible, then GET AWAY.

It is essential, even in seemingly harmless situations, to be aware of and to minimise any risks to your personal safety. Assessing involves identifying what might cause you harm and continuously checking to see if the situation has changed. There are two levels of risk here – ‘high’ and ‘unknown at this stage’. Never assume that there isn’t a risk.

A quick and useful way to assess risk in any situation is to use the term ‘POP’ – Person, Object, Place.

Person(s): Think about their size – are they taller or larger than you?  Assess their maturity and age gap. How many are there? What is their fitness level? Do they have any martial arts or boxing skills that could harm you? Assess their attitude and behaviour – are they showing signs of aggression?

Object(s): Almost any object can be used as a weapon. Assess how much harm objects could cause you. Remember that objects can be thrown and weapons can be hidden. Consider moving certain objects out of reach before they become weapons.

Place: Consider the following when assessing a situation, and think about whether the location of the conflict could increase the risk to you.

  • Look for exits (can you escape easily if you need to?
  • Assess crowds and onlookers (could they act as a barrier to your escape route, or could they help? Are they likely to join in?)
  • Look out for potential hazards such as heights, escalators, stairs and traffic (all of which could be dangerous in an escalated situation)
  • Note the availability of security and CCTV cameras.
  • Assess the lighting, weather and condition of the location.
  • Note the time of day (who will be around to help or harm you? Are you based in an area that features offices and shops – which will be empty at night?)


If the situation is safe enough for you to stay in, then assess the levels of anxiety. If anxiety is high then your priority is to reduce the anxiety so that you can have a rational conversation.

As anxiety increases, the ability to think clearly is reduced. Attempting to influence or reason with someone while they are in a highly anxious state could be pointless. In highly anxious situations, the first aim of defusing is to reduce anxiety to restore rationality. Calm the person down and they are more likely to have a rational conversation with you.


If the situation is safe enough for you to stay in and if anxiety is low, then your priority is to understand what is going on. What is driving the conflict?

Practical conflicts: These involve two or more people who want different things. They are driven by a desire to get their own way – no matter the cost – e.g. ‘you have something that I want’ – often these situations have very little emotion.

Emotional conflicts: These are driven by how a person feels about the conflict. Many conflicts will begin as practical, but become emotional as they escalate or become personal. An entirely emotional conflict has no practical problem to solve and therefore any attempts to resolve the situation will fail.

Assess who is involved and why the conflict is occurring. Why? Why now? Why here? Has something triggered or contributed to this situation, such as an anniversary, or the stresses of an upcoming event? Are there previous conflicts affecting the situation? Understanding why you are in this situation might help you to find a solution.

And finally, are there other factors which might affect how this situation will progress such as drugs, alcohol or peer pressure – anything which may affect how unpredictable those involved are likely to be. Are there any barriers to communication, such as language barriers or excessive noise which might affect your ability to be understood and therefore manage the situation.