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May 2015

There are many instances of aggressive behavior on college campuses each year. Most physical violence on campuses occurs between students, happens Thursday night through Sunday morning, involves individuals who know one another, typically results in minor injuries and is often fueled by alcohol consumption1. But there are other forms of aggression on college campuses that involve professors, administrators, staff, and students as well as their spouses, dating acquaintances and significant others. Examples of aggressive behavior may include intimidation, threats, inappropriate confrontation, screaming, banging, throwing objects, hitting walls, threats with weapons, assault, and, on rare occasions, murder.

LIM College Policy

Any form of these aggressions are a violation of LIM College’s Code of Conduct and should be reported as early as possible, before the aggression escalates. If you are a victim of aggressive behavior, you should report it right away to the any of the following: Professor, Dean, RA, Emergency Response Building Team Member, Human Resources Staff Member or an administrator.

Stages of Aggression

Although LIM College has great policies and tremendous resources in place to discourage aggressive behavior, it is important to have a basic understanding of how to react if confronted by someone who is behaving aggressively. The first step in managing aggressive behavior is understanding the stages of aggression. The three stages are:

  1. Anxiety: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune2
  2. Verbal Aggression: communication of overt or suppressed hostility, either innate or resulting from continued frustration3
  3. Physical Aggression: a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master4

The physical characteristics of each stage of aggression are defined below.


  • Head down
  • Face flushes or twitches
  • Eyebrows frown or twitch
  • Mouth dry, excessive swallowing
  • Veins appear
  • Breath is shallow
  • Pacing
  • Appears frustrated
  • Sweating, palms or brow
  • Eye contact is minimal
  • Talking is minimal or excessive, nervous laugh

Verbal Aggression

  • Face red
  • Lips pushed forward
  • Direct prolonged eye contact
  • Breathing is quicker and deeper
  • Excessive salivation
  • Eyebrows frown
  • Head and shoulders are back
  • Shoulders are square
  • Standing as tall as possible
  • Finger pointing
  • Moves in and out of personal space
  • Belligerent, yelling, cursing, etc.
  • Pounding fists on walls, tables, etc.

Physical Aggression

  • Face becomes white
  • Eyebrows drop, covering eyes
  • Lips tighten over teeth
  • Head is down
  • Breathing is rapid and deep
  • Verbalization stops
  • Change of stance
  • Stops all movement
  • Reflecting on the before attack
  • Breaks eye contact and looks at the target
  • Lowering the bodies center of gravity

De-escalation Techniques

For each stage of aggression (Anxiety, Verbal Aggression and Physical Aggression) there are techniques that can be used to de-escalate the aggressive person. Conversely there are actions that can be taken that will escalate aggressive behavior and perhaps cause the individual to become violent. The goal should always be to de-escalate the situation. De-escalation can be accomplished by responding to each stage of aggression as described below:

De-escalation Technique

  1. Anxiety – Support behavior
  2. Verb Aggression – Assertive behavior
  3. Physical Aggression – Defensive behavior

Supportive Behavior

  • Be in control
  • Listen empathetically – relate to their situation
  • Maintain a calm reassuring voice
  • Communicate at their level
  • Speak with respect
  • Volume of speech- conversational
  • Ask open ended questions
  • Clarify implied statements, threats, or key words
  • Use their name
  • Isolate the problem from the individual
  • Get them to sit down with you
  • Get them to walk with you

Assertive Behavior

  • Allow aggressor to vent
  • Use an assertive stance
  • Maintain eye communication
  • Use the aggressor’s name
  • Maintain a calm voice
  • Set reasonable and enforceable limits or consequences
  • Enforce limits or consequences

Defensive Behavior

  • Move back and away
  • Use loud positive commands: “Stop!” “No!”
  • Extending commands: “Step back!” “Do it now!”
  • Use diversions to interrupt the aggressor’s focus or intent - drop an object as a diversion
  • Exit the room


Most communication during confrontation is non-verbal body language – the way you stand and hold yourself says more than your words. Use the charts below to understand how you are expressing yourself non-verbally.



Aggressive confrontations can be quickly de-escalated using the tips and techniques discussed in this article. All de-escalation starts with awareness of the signs of aggression. To avoid escalation of aggression, you must be prepared to conduct yourself in a professional and appropriate manner. Remember that your body language sends powerful messages to anxious, verbally aggressive and even physically aggressive individuals. The images combined below depict appropriate body language for each stage of aggression.

Verbal Aggression

Physical Aggression Defensive


1Violence Prevention and Response, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 2008.
4Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary