10 Communication Tips for Nurses Dealing with Angry Patients

By Jennifer Ward on Fri, Oct 04, 2013

angry patientDealing 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.

Have you come accross with grumpy and angry patients? How did you handle them?


Cho Gomez 10 months ago
to be able not to go for the conflict situation

Cho Gomez 10 months ago

Conflict situation may arise if the patient and the caregiver or the nurse if the patient does not understand what is the nurse or the caregiver said, like communication barrier for the caregiver and the patient, even though you trying hard but the moment he cannot understand what you say its useless. Communication is very important part if you are caring an older patient or who ever patient with disabilities. Me what i do is more on searching how can do provide more good services to be able to go to conflict situation, and also its best is to explain to your patient what you have to do this and why he have to take this.

Anonymous 11 months ago
#3 Show Empathy cannot be stressed enough. Many people visiting a physicians office are not feeling at their best and may not be acting "normally".

That said if they have been waiting for their appointment patiently and yet their appointment time has passed by 20 minutes I would recommend following this advice:


Anonymous 1 year ago
When I first meet a new patient, I seem to find they are on their best behavior as well as myself. As time goes by, they tend to get more demanding and I find myself wondering what to say to not offend them but also stand up for myself.

Anonymous 2 years ago

When I first introduce myself to the patient I do it thinking in the back of my head this is already the angry patient and I walk on egg shells and talk about at least one thing that has absolutely nothing to do related to the reason they are there. This is a great icebreaker for me to assess if they can respond and possibly find something to laugh about, or just to assess their anger scale. Now when it comes to the DON and multiple family members with multiple concerns, I am not their psychiatrist.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Using subtle diversions might also help. As mentioned keeping out of the patient's personal space is important for both patient and nurse.

Mary of the Cascades

Anonymous 4 years ago
Truly words to work by! :-)