Seven Fool Proof Techniques to Defuse the Angry Patient

1. Individualize the patient and the situation where the anger is occurring. It is gasoline on the fire when you respond with generalities that do not recognize the individual who is responding and how they saw the situation that has angered them. If they are heard as an individual, the anger will soften.

2. Even if it is directed pointedly at you, it is not about you -it is about them. Remove your ego and control your feelings. The angry person can bate you to defend yourself. Now they've got you! Communicate that their feelings are valid and your purpose is to “correct” the situation they see.

3. Remind yourself that small events matter. The size and importance is in the eye of the beholder. Try to see it and communicate that you accept it as they see it. Small events when they bundle can have the force of a very big event. When the event sees trivial or the anger disproportionate, think “There is more to this in the patient's mind than appears on the surface.” Learn what the roots are.
4. Careful and empathic listening is a tool. Close mouth, open ears. Doing nothing but listening can be a lot. When the patient needs more, they will let you know. Tread lightly, though. When a patient is angry, they are also sensitive and behaviors from others can have a big impact. After all, you are dealing with an explosive. Handle gently!

5. Anger is emotional pain. Think pain, rather than hostility. Respond in a way that is meant to tie pain, not to fight back. If you meet anger with anger, you create war. You may win a battle, but lose the war. “I'm sorry” is a great peace maker.

6. Do not fix the blame, fix the problem. When personal attacks occurs, direct away from them to “How can we make it better?” Identify the problem, not the person. If the problem is a person, a personal attack and vilification will not help.

7. Aim for a win / win output – improvement for all involved. This may require real change for the parties involved. Protecting the status quo and going for appeasement will be beneficial and set the stage for further problems.

Some personalities are angry, and any situation can be fodder for them. Managing them so that they are contained and minimizing contact and therefore risk is the best you can do with them. However, most personalities when they are angry have been hurt. The perception of the injury may be irrational and ellogical, but that does not mean the pain is not real. To minimize it to them or point out the irrationality will compound the pain and increase your risk.

To summarize:
• Respond to the unique person in front of you;
• Remove ego, control feelings;
• Small events matter. A spark can cause and explosion;
• Listening is a tool; practice it;
• Anger is emotional pain; see the pain, avoid the hostility;
• Do not fix the blame, fix the problem;
• Aim for a win / win; improvement for all.

Anger from others can rock the boat of our best intentions. It can take the air out of our sails if we let it. It can also tip the boat and put us in a bad situation. Find and use the tools available to protect the practitioner and help the patient.

Copyright © 2012 ralph Schillace, Ph.D.