Working in healthcare brings you in contact on a daily basis with people who are going through some of the hardest times of their lives. Understandably, the lives of their loved ones or their own lives hang in the balance, and if there is anything worth having strong emotions towards, that would be it!
Nevertheless, as caregivers being able to calm someone down who is angry or frustrated is vital to diving into meaningful, productive dialogue about what we can do to resolve their concern.
Here are just a few tips, verbally and with our body language, that can help de-escalate a situation, connect us to the person who is upset, and ultimately pave the way for resolution.
- Speak gently. Bringing our voice down to a soft, calm, gentle tone encourages them to lower their voice as well, instead of feeling like you have to meet their voice level.
- Say “I’m sorry.” It’s always appropriate to say “I’m so sorry you are going through this.”
- Affirm their feelings. “I would be frustrated too.” This can begin to build connection, leading to deeper dialogue on what specifically we can do to resolve the situation.
- Reassure them you want to fix the problem. “I really want to help you. What can I do to resolve this?” This shows you care, and that you are wanting to act on their behalf.
- Compliment them. “Your daughter is lucky to have you.” This is often unexpected and disarms them because they feel their strong emotions have not been wasted. They feel their efforts have been appreciated.
- Look them in the eyes. Appropriate eye contact builds trust and shows respect. It also communicates we want to connect with them. 50-70% is usually appropriate.
- Keep your hands open and in front of you. Placing our hands behind our back, in our pockets, or having our arms folded across our chest can unconsciously communicate that we don’t want to be open and honest. Open hands that can be seen builds trust.
These are just a couple of things I try to keep in mind when interacting with patients or family members who are angry or upset. What do you do? What have you found to be effective? I’d love to know!