Safety Handbook for Journalists

1. Conflict Management Solutions

Different cultures and social sub-cultures have different ‘codes’ with regard to displays of anger and hostility. It is advisable to discuss this informally with colleagues and to consider potential implications.

Journalists unfamiliar with the culture may not realise when they are provoking anger or hostility as they do not notice cultural signs and expressions. Journalists, on the other hand, may have difficulty responding firmly if suddenly confronted by an expression of strong hostility that they are not used to (for example, at a checkpoint). Both may have to learn to adjust their habits in order to deal optimally with situations.

The ‘Emotional’ brain

  • Quickly processes incoming information
  • Filters for potential threat
  • Triggers, fight, flight or Freeze!

The ‘Rational’ brain

  • Allows objectivity
  • Makes sense of any risk
  • Allows planning or use of Pre-learned strategies

Behavioural cycle

From a personal security point of view, it is useful to learn the skill of defusing anger. When faced with a clear threat or crisis our natural physiological reaction is to flee or fight. There is a close connection between fear and anger and fear can easily transform into anger and therefore violence. This is because both fear and anger create adrenaline flows – a transformation of our biochemistry that can affect our mental clarity of judgement.

The key rules are: remain calm, do not be provoked, listen and say little, watch your body language, and gradually shift the dialogue from that of personal confrontation to one of the issues as a problem for which there is a mutually acceptable solution.

The best practices for defusing tactics

It is a situational judgement whether or not you should try to control anger and defuse hostility.

Guidelines: Diffusing Anger and Hostility

  • Really listen to what they are saying
  • Focus your attention on them
  • Use non-verbal cues (e.g. nodding the head)
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand
  • Paraphrase what they have said, to show that you have understood

Beware of your facial expression and body language: 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. Stand at an angle to the angry person rather than facing them full on.

  • Watch the tone of your voice, and keep it calm.
  • Listen without interrupting as interrupting will only increase anger
  • Listen to the ‘real’ message and try to steer the communication towards the real issue and check if it is being understood correctly.
  • Become a curious listener and ask for clarification and information in order to understand what really upset the other person or caused their hostility. Do not contradict/correct an angry person before they have finished venting their anger.
  • Focus on the issue and not on the person: do not confront the other personally and avoid openly judging him/her; do not respond to provocative judgements about yourself or your organisation; always shift dialogue onto the issue; if the main message of the angry person is to express objection to your being there, then say that you have got the message and will comply, and leave.
  • Maintain your own dignity, but also allow the angry and hostile person to save face too.

Incident and crisis management techniques

Competence in survival requires strong mental preparedness and self-control. Confrontation with acute danger causes shock, fear and terror. This can be overwhelming and can lead to behaviour that increases rather than reduces risk. The purpose of prior exposure to threatening situations through training and in simulations and role playing is to reduce the element of surprise and help the staff member retain mental control.

The key elements of mental control are:

  • Don’t panic;
  • Act or react quickly but with situational awareness;
  • Don’t show anger or fear to your attackers; retain your dignity;
  • Preserve your life.
  • Try to put yourself mentally ‘outside’ the situation into which you have been forced;
  • Draw on your personal values.

Open PALMS system

A powerful gesture to signal non-aggression

  • Position
  • Attitude
  • Look & listen
  • Make space
  • Stance