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Communication Skills are key in all steps of F.L.A.M.E.. We use communication skills while finding out about a situation, and especially when listening. When interacting with participants, we first focus on Communication skills, and then can integrate Mediation Skills.

We communicate by Thinking, Talking, Rephrasing, Listening, and De-escalating.

Communication is the exchange of information.

Parts of it are or can be:

  • The words used in a message
  • How the message is transmitted (paper, face-to-face, or by radio)
  • Asking for validation of messages transmission (“Did you mean…”, or “Confirmed. You need first aid at the bug”)

Communication is a complex process. Differing perceptions may cause difficulties in the communication of ideas and information.


Before you talk, you need to pause and think about what you want to communicate. It may be helpful to ask yourself a series of questions to help you figure this out. These include questions like:

  • "What do I want to have happen here?"
  • “What more info do I need?” (Determining if someone is at their camp or finding out why someone is speaking loudly)
  • “What do I want these people to do?” (Be mindful of requests vs. demands for action)
  • “What extra resources do I need?” (Requests for help from participants, Asking Khaki to send medical help)

Think through ways you might talk, listen, rephrase, and deescalate.


Respectful, Non-confrontational Attitude

When talking be relatable, polite and respectful. The word “Please” does wonders! Always make sure to introduce yourself.

Express that you are there to help. Be aware of how you may be perceived as an authority figure. Keep social capital in mind.

Examine your possible biases and personal assumptions about the issues you’re communicating. Disclose your own interests and agendas. The receivers will quickly tune out if they suspect that you have a hidden agenda. By being authentic, you will gain credibility, which is essential for effective communication.

Remember that as Rangers, we try to use non-confrontational communication whenever possible, to encourage cooperation and help create a safe environment.


If your message is not clear, or if it can be interpreted in more than one way, it will leave the receivers wondering about what you mean. Make sure that your message is clear and unambiguous.

Your communication can be effective only when received in a language the receivers can understand. You need to speak not in your own language or style of thinking but in the language and style of thinking of the receivers. Understand their educational level and their demographics and communicate to them accordingly.

Even when communicating in the language of the receivers, you can still lose them if you overload them with too much information or overly complex ideas. Use the KISS principle (Keep It Short and Simple).


In effective communication, timing is critical. For example, a message of praise and recognition should not come too late after the fact or it will lose its effectiveness. “Better late than never” may be true, but a timely message is the best.

Non-Verbal Communication

We communicate a great deal with tone of voice and body language. See section on de-escalation for body language.

Non-Verbal communication includes:

  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice and other "paraverbal" communication (HOW we say what we say) such as volume, rate of speech, and inflection)
  • Movements
  • Appearance
  • Eye contact

The more stressed an individual may be:

  • the less able they are to process verbal information effectively
  • the more reliant they become on non-verbal communication


Much of what we do in our communication as Rangers is rephrasing: rephrasing what we ask and say, and rephrasing what we hear (see more below in Active Listening.)

Questions: Open & closed

Asking questions is key to finding out information. Think about the types of questions you’re asking.

Open-ended questions invite more participation and detail from speaker. Examples of open ended questions include: "What are you up to today?" and "How's your Burn going?".

On the other hand, closed-ended questions invite a yes/no or factual answer. Examples of close-ended questions include “Do you understand?” and "How old are you?".

Both types of questions are useful in the right context. Open-ended questions encourage free communication. Closed-ended can decrease the level of engagement, which can be useful if you want the person to focus, slow down or be less chatty.

Avoid negativity when possible

As you listen to participants explain their perspective you’ll want to respond without agreeing or appearing to contradict what they are saying. Eliminating contradiction avoids confrontation without conceding the point. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • “Yes, but …” It can negate everything that came before it, and/or lead to argument. Try “Yes, and …” or just “Yes.”. For example:
    • “I love you but I’m upset with you” vs. “I love you and I’m upset with you”
    • “I’m not going to do that” vs. “You’re right, and I can’t figure out how to make that work” vs. “You’re right. Can you show me how it could work?”
  • "Wait, I think I might have misunderstood you...” works better than “No, you’re wrong.”
  • “Hang on, maybe I wasn’t being clear...” works better than “No, that’s not what I said.”

Most people don’t like negative communication and bad news. Passive, weak, or negative communication will turn people off. Even the most negative, critical, or difficult communication will be better received when presented in a positive, affirmative style. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible idea,” try, “Tell me how we can make this idea work.”


Communication is not just speaking - it’s both speaking and listening. One-way communication is no communication at all. Make sure to listen and understand the others’ needs and points of view.

When listening, try to listen honestly in the moment, acknowledging the person you’re speaking with. It is also beneficial to read what they are saying emotionally as well as what words are said.

Listening styles can be on a spectrum of reactivity:

  • Silent, passive, non-reactive: Sometimes just being silent and not reacting at all is uncomfortable but helpful.
  • Silent but reactive: Giving non-verbal cues such as nodding, moving hands, facial expressions, encouraging.
  • Active listening: Communicating by rephrasing that you understand what the person is saying and feeling.


Sometimes, the best way to communicate is by not talking. Silence can be comfortable or uncomfortable and both can be useful in the right situation. Sometimes silent companionship is all that someone needs if they're stressed out. Uncomfortable silence can be a useful tool for getting people to think about what they've been saying or get them to talk more.

Active Listening

Active Listening is a communication tool in which the speaker restates or rephrases what they have heard in their own words to confirm understanding of the communication. This is often a very useful listening style when rangering (and in life), so a very good skill to learn and practice.

Understanding Emotions

One part of active listening is understand what the other person is feeling in addition to what they are saying, and then communicating to them that you understand them.

Active listening is NOT:

  • Agreement: you don’t have to agree with someone to understand what they’re feeling
  • Liking: you don’t need to like or love them to understand what they’re feeling
  • Placating: letting them know you understand them is not the same as telling them what they want to hear
  • Feeling the same emotion as they do.

The point of understanding emotions when active listening is not to talk someone out of how they’re feeling, it’s to tune in to how they’re feeling so you can connect with them and thus deal with them more effectively. This is important because feeling understood can be calming/de-escalating for an upset participant, and they are more likely to be open to your input if they feel understood.

Technique for understanding emotions while active listening:

  • Step 1: Notice the emotion the person is expressing.
  • Step 2: Look for the cause of the emotion.
    • Try to figure out what thoughts / beliefs are underlying the emotion.
      • With angry people, look for perceptions of unfairness.
      • With sad people, look for perceptions of loss.
      • With anxious people, look for perceptions of danger.
  • Step 3: Validate the feeling (without necessarily agreeing with the assessment).

Example of active listening use rephrasing and understanding emotion:

  • Participant: "I don't have to put up with their crap anymore. I need some sleep, and they need to turn off the fucking sound system."
  • Ranger: "So, you’re angry, you’re tired, and you want them to turn off the music. Is that right?"


The final element in communication is de-escalation. De-escalation techniques are used to calm people down--which is sometimes the most helpful intervention in a situation. De-escalation can be useful for yourself as well as the participant you’re dealing with.

Start with de-escalating yourself

You’ll need to start by de-escalating yourself if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or charged by a situation. Remember that we want to be calm when approaching situations. You want to calm people with your presence and actions, not by telling them to calm down. It’s hard to get people to calm down if you’re acting anxious or angry. It also doesn't help to tell someone to calm down. If you need to slow a situation down, stop and take a deep breath and think about what you want to do.

Then de-escalate others, if possible

Once you’ve de-escalated yourself you’ll want to de-escalate those around you.

  • Separate arguing people.
    • Ideally, get them out of each other’s sight (while maintaining sight of your partner). Tip: if the participants are back-to back, you and your partner can be facing each other.
  • Calm people with your presence and actions and example, not by telling them to calm down.
    • It’s hard to get people to calm down if you’re acting anxious or angry.
    • Never tell anyone to calm down.

De-escalation Techniques using Body Language

When interacting with someone who is upset, your non-verbal communication may be the most valuable tool you have:

  • Non-threatening stance: Stand or sit 45 degrees vs. face-to-face, leaving sufficient personal space, usually about an arm and a half (Easy rule: Can I see your feet? If I can’t, I’m too close.)
  • Sit down: Especially if a person is agitated, it can be helpful to sit down.
  • Leave an exit: Position yourself so that both you and the participant can leave.
  • Open posture: Stand or sit without arms or legs crossed or closed, if possible.
  • Pacing and leading: match speaker's speed/energy, then gradually slow/calm down.
  • Relax: People have a tendency to synchronize their mood and tone with those around them. If you project a relaxed, calm and confident presence, it can be helpful in influencing the other person to be calm as well.
  • Break state: do anything else (go for a walk, re-lace your boots, eat something, ask irrelevant questions)
  • Eye contact: enough to show you’re paying close attention, not so much that you seem threatening (especially with an angry participant)
  • Writing down: keeps your facts straight and lets participant know you’re taking it seriously (remember to ask permission)
  • Touch: Be very cautious and use your best judgment. (Touching a participant can calm them down or can make things much, much worse.)

De-escalating Techniques Using Words

Some verbal communication techniques can help de-escalate an upset person as well. Active listening is particularly helpful.

  • Define emotions: Help the person to define what they are feeling. For example, you can say “I understand that you are upset” or “It sounds like you’re really angry about this.”
  • Use “we” and “us” to generate connection with people.

Disengaging from the situation

If the conflict is not resolving, it can be tempting to do more. Don’t. Do less. Step back, slow down, think more, listen more carefully, talk less. One reason it can be tempting to do more is that your ego gets involved. It can be hard to accept that you can’t help, or that you don’t know what to do or say, but you don’t want to admit defeat. When you notice this happening, kick it sideways. Get your partner to take over, or call Khaki and ask for another pair of Rangers or a shift lead. If you notice your partner getting over-involved or overwhelmed, kick your partner sideways and see if you can help out (for instance, by tapping him/her on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, you’re wanted on the radio. Could you come over here for a sec?”

A useful warning sign: If you or the participant are starting to repeat yourselves, something has gone wrong in the communication cycle. The speaker may feel misunderstood, or you may be getting overwhelmed or over-involved. If this happens, slow down and ask more questions, or kick it sideways to another set of Rangers.

See more in the next section on Mediation.