Patients who are going through health crises are often filled with fear, which can leach out of them as anger. People who are usually calm and collected may suddenly be blowing up at the least provocation. As a nurse, you may be the person directly in an angry patient’s path. Although the majority of your patients will most likely be able to control their tempers, you may occasionally come across an angry, defensive, violent or otherwise difficult patient who will require you to take immediate control of the situation. These tips will give you guidance whether you are new to the medical field or have been working in health care for some time.

Recognize a Potentially Problematic Situation

There are usually plenty of signs that a situation is about to become problematic if you are willing to look for them. The patient may become very defensive, may raise his voice or may maintain a closed-off posture. If you have gotten to know a particular patient, a change in character, such as a lack of talkativeness, may signal a change in temper. If you notice these signs, you have the opportunity to defuse the situation with some of the following tips.

Become More Empathetic

Empathy shows a patient that you truly care. While you may not have gone through the same struggles, you can demonstrate compassion by handing him a tissue, taking time for a conversation and validating his feelings. Many patients just want to know that you understand how they are feeling and that you do not judge them for their feelings.

Resist Blame

It can be easy to throw blame on a patient for anything negative that has happened, but you need to try to see the situation from the patient’s perspective. He is most likely in a completely new situation and may be frightened. Instead of adopting patient-focused language that can sound accusatory, rephrase what you have to say with open-ended questions and by repeating back what he has said so that you can better understand him.

Take Time to Listen

Although most health care workers are incredibly busy, taking 5 or 10 minutes out of your day to sit next to a patient’s bedside and listen to him can change the entire outlook of your patient. Resist the urge to chart or do other tasks while listening. Instead, maintain good eye contact, and never interrupt.

Set Boundaries

In some cases, your best efforts to defuse a situation may fail, and you may find yourself with a verbally abusive or combative patient. Know your boundaries before this type of situation arises so that you can stay calm and professional while protecting your mind and body.

Always Document

Angry patients are the ones who are most likely to sue you or your health care system. Situations like this call for extensive documentation of exactly what you and the patient said and exactly what happened.

Most of the time, recognizing warning signs of potential anger and taking the time to listen to your patient will take care of a difficult situation. However, there may be times when situations get out of control. Be sure to turn to your coworkers for help, document the situation well once it has blown over and resist blaming yourself for what happened.