Nursing is a profession that is at the forefront of dealing with the public. Frequently, when nurses interact with patients and families, it is in their most difficult, scariest, and emotional days of their lives. As you can imagine, with emotions running high, patients and family members can often lash out and become irate. As a new nurse, I’ve found it difficult to deal with angry patients the first couple times I’ve encountered them. Here are some tips that have helped me learn to react when a patient becomes angry, maybe they’ll be helpful to you as well.
1 – Empathize with your patient. Put yourself in their shoes! If you were in their circumstance, would you be afraid? Or annoyed? Or angry? Maybe their emotions are appropriate for the situation, even if it isn’t appropriate for them to lash out at the people who are trying to help them. Seeing things from your patient’s perspective will help you move the toward a positive outcome.
2 – Don’t take it personally. This is my biggest challenge when a patient expresses anger or frustration to me. I always feel like they are angry at me when in reality, they are angry with their situation. When I remind myself it isn’t me that has caused negative feelings, I can handle the situation better. I typically dwell on the conversation until I’ve convinced myself that it wasn’t my fault, so the sooner I remind myself not to take it personal, the better.
3 – Kill them with kindness. (Code Blue!) Sometimes just returning hurtful words with words that are kind and caring can completely alleviate a situation. Return their frustration with kindness and you might just get kindness back! And even if that doesn’t change your patient’s disposition, at least you tried.
4 – If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If you are unable to open your mouth without spewing venom in a situation where a patient becomes irate, it may be better off to not say anything at all. If your words could possibly make the situation worse instead of better, it’s probably best to keep them on the inside. This advice is one of the hardest tips to use in practice, but can definitely save yourself some trouble.
5 – Set some boundaries. Everyone has the right to feel angry, frustrated, confused, hurt, and sad. However, no one has the right to use these feelings as an excuse to be a bully. If a patient or family member continues to speak to you in a disrespectful manner, it may be time to set some boundaries. If a simple, “Mr. Smith, the way you are speaking to me is disrespectful.” doesn’t help the situation, consider asking your supervisor for some guidance.
6 – Remember how they made you feel. The sad, hard truth of life is that at some point, we will likely all experience a time when we, or a loved one, are the patient instead of the healthcare professional. In those difficult times, when you are upset or angry, instead of lashing out at your healthcare team, remember how it felt when you were on the other side of ugly words. And let me remind you, typically things don’t suddenly get accomplished just because you raise your voice.
Have you ever been in a situation where a patient became angry? How did you react or respond to them? Let me know in the comments!