As nurses, we have to make sure that our patients get the best care possible, and that their families are always well-informed. However, we sometimes get into arguments with them because of certain misunderstanding that may lead to unnecessary tension. Here are 20 effective ways to deal with angry patients and their families:
1. Understand that it’s not easy being a patient. Or a family.
No person would ever want to be stuck in the hospital for days, and to be taken care of by different strangers every eight to ten hours. Try to understand that it’s really not easy being a patient nor to be a relative whose loved one is in critical condition. If nurses tend to get cranky under stress, so are they.
2. Show empathy.
As a nurse, your role is to let the patients feel that you understand and care about them. You can show empathy by focusing your attention to your surroundings and to their feelings, expressions and actions. Show them that you are interested and that they are important.
3. Allow the patient to blow off some steam or ‘calm down’.
The situation may worsen if you just let the patient stay angry. One of the best things you could do is to let them calm down first before you give them your explanation. Remind yourself that they are not happy about being ill, so it’s best to just try your best to keep your cool while waiting for them to calm down.
4. Do not invade the patient’s personal space.
Try not to get either too close or too far from them. Let them feel that they still have their own personal space that you wouldn’t be invading and that they are safe there.
5. Do not touch them.
In line with letting them have their personal space, try not to touch them. This might only make things worse, and make them feel that you are invading their own happy bubble. Let them speak their mind from a comfortable distance, but not too far that you’d have to shout at each other, or too near that you’d be uncomfortable to speak.
6. Be sensitive.
If a patient gets mad at you for something, don’t think that he is a bad patient or person. Think about how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Being sensitive to people’s feelings means accepting them and respecting them no matter what happens.
7. Be gentle.
Gentleness is a quality that comes from the heart and soul. People who are gentle establish peace and are strong enough to remain calm and show restraint even when faced with difficult situations.
Think before you respond to anything the patient says. Sometimes, people react too quickly without taking time to think about how their responses might affect others.
If you are to respond, do it in a calm and kind manner. If you want to make the situation better, try to avoid negativity. Instead, focus on something that you can do to help the person.
8. Do not argue.
Trying not to argue doesn’t mean you cannot voice out your opinion. It only means you have to state your point in a decent and respectful manner. Be truthful of everything you say, and try not to think that you are always right. Communicating better and having a positive behavior towards any issue will solve anything.
9. Apologize for the inconvenience.
Something must have gone wrong that may have caused the patient to be angry. It’s okay to accept it and apologize. Remember that our main goal is to restore the patient’s health.
Apologizing will not make you less of a person; it will only show that you are strong and brave enough to accept your mistakes. It could also lessen any tension that may occur between you and your patients (or their family members).
10. Settle the issues immediately.
Of course, it is best to work on the complaint as soon as you can. The patient or family member is angry for a reason. Make sure to take note of the details of their complaint and find time to fix it.
11. Keep your promises.
When dealing with patients, you tend to say things you do not mean, and more often than not, give promises that you cannot keep. Remember that the patients expect so much from nurses that they will believe whatever nurses will tell them. Never compromise.
12. Set boundaries.
It may come to a point when you have to set a boundary. Keep yourself safe but let them know that they you are listening to them. Defuse situations before they even escalate. A patient has the right to be involved in their medical decision-making, but they cannot use that right for any unreasonable demands.
Communication is one of the most important aspects in the nursing profession. Be honest with everything you say to the patient. Be available and responsive to your patients. Never let them feel that you are ignoring them. It will be much easier to fix things if effective communication is used.
14. Acknowledge the emotion that the patient is projecting.
Validating the person’s feelings will help them feel understood. Let them feel that their feelings make sense, that you hear them and you understand them. People, especially those who are angry, often need to know that you don’t think they are bad or crazy for feeling that way.
Validating a person’s feelings requires a temporary suppression of the impulse to explain your side. Focus your attention on what your patient or their family member feels and try to acknowledge their feelings.
This means that you have to let your patient speak their mind without interrupting. Listening does not only expand your capacity for empathy, but it also sharpens your communication skills. Active listening also means you should look at the problems from the other person’s point of view. Focus on what the person is saying to you before offering any help. Remember to take note of what they are saying, and try to retain the information.
16. Ask open-ended questions.
Ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person think and feel. Ask clarifications if you don’t get what the patient is trying to say.
Remember that close-ended questions might make the situation worse, because it will only let them feel that you are not interested in what they have to say. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, will show them that you care. Ask them questions like “Why do you feel this way?” or “How do you feel about it?”.
17. Don’t make defensive responses.
Think first before responding. Learn how to pause and breathe. This will calm you down and control your response. It will also prevent an unnecessary outburst. Understand that many factors have led to a verbal attack from your patient or their family member. Consider that you may not be the sole reason of their anger, and that there is no point in getting defensive.
18. Make use of appropriate language.
Never forget your professionalism even when you are under stress. Make sure that the language you use is appropriate for the situation you are in. Angry people tend to say things they don’t really mean, and it’s possible that you could say things that you will regret when things cool down later on. Choose your words wisely.
19. Watch your body language.
Never cross your arms when facing them and don’t turn your back from them while they are speaking. Maintain eye contact if necessary, just so you can let them feel that you are open to what they have to say. Openness means that you are willing and ready to listen to them without judgment.
20. Shake it off.
Learn how to breathe properly so you can let all the anxiety and anger leave your system whilst exhaling. This will not only help you relax, but it will also give you time to think about your actions and words.
Don’t let one difficult situation ruin your whole day. Remember that the nursing profession is not an easy job, and that there are far more difficult things you have to face every day. Learn how to accept these things that you cannot change, and you will be able to handle things more gracefully and calmly like never before. It will all get better soon.
How do you deal with angry patients and their families? Share your experiences with us. We’d love to hear from you!
About the Author: Mary Elizabeth Velarmino Francisco earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree from the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Philippines. She is always happy to share her passion for writing and blogging. With coffee running through her veins, she enthusiastically battles each day, one article at a time.