Dealing with an “angry” patient is an uncomfortable situation for any clinician. By nature, most people would prefer to avoid conflict. Conflicts trigger tension, which, in turn, triggers one’s own flight-or-fight response. When met with anger, one tends to either react with anger or with the desire to flee.

Remaining calm, professional and empathetic to the emotions of the patients is sometimes very difficult for any of us, but there are communication skills in nursing that can be used to defuse anger and re-establish effective dialogue with patients and their families.

Below are several suggestions that might prove effective:

  1. Recognize the signs of anger before it reaches its climax.

  2. Remain calm.

  3. Show empathy.

  4. Express concerns for the patient’s feelings.

  5. Allow the patient time to “cool off” or “calm down” if necessary.

  6. When making statements, use “I” rather than “You.” This seems to be easier for the patient to tolerate.

  7. Suggest activities that might help the patient to divert the anger such as walking or journaling.

  8. Remain at a safe distance. Do not invade the patient’s personal space during the escalation of anger.

  9. Be sensitive to non-verbal communication.

    Often non-verbal cues that the caregiver gives can further anger the patient. Communication in nursing is both verbal and non-verbal.
  10. Soften requests.

    For instance, when asking the patient to take a particular medication, use the following, “I would really appreciate it if you would take this medication. I want to help you,” versus “You really need to take this medication. The doctor has ordered it for you, because we all care about you.”

For good nursing practice, communication is truly an integral part. Think of these tips when dealing with angry patients and you'll be good to go. With effective communication, you could show your patients and their families that you really care.

How did you handle them?