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Coronavirus (COVID-19): updates and advice.

Managing other people's emotions

No one can say with any certainty what they would do when faced with a difficult or stressful situation. Many people will be very stressed and anxious during this time. You may experience emotional outbursts. While it is important to recognise how other people are feeling, abuse and violence are not acceptable.

If you work in a frontline role, we fully support you and are asking everyone in our communities to do the same.

Here are some tips on how to deal with them and remain calm.

Managing other people's anger

To deal with anger you can:

  • be objective: remember anger is often a cover for fear, particularly in situations where a person feels they have no control. You are not the cause and the person has no right to be verbally, or physically, abusive to you
  • assess the situation: if you feel you are at risk of being harmed, you should find a way to remove yourself as soon as possible. If there is no risk, understand that the person’s display of anger could be a natural reaction to the situation
  • find a mantra: this is not about me, they are reacting to the situation. Mentally see yourself putting your hand up to block the onslaught, but don’t physically do it
  • edit what you hear: remove the words or gestures that sting, delete any tone of blame and get to the core of what they are asking for or saying
  • think about the causes of the outburst: this is a very worrying, anxious and stressful time when we have little or no control over what is happening
  • try not to be defensive: remember that this isn’t about you, they are lashing out at the situation they find themselves in
  • actively listen: give them the time they need to express themselves, without interruption, if possible. Asking about their concerns or what they are trying to accomplish should help to diffuse the situation
  • offer support and empathy: demonstrate understanding of how difficult this is for them and try to help them deal with or resolve the issues they are facing
  • remind yourself that their behaviour is not your fault and you should never believe that it is: they're most likely acting out of fear. Remember that you can’t control other people, but you can control how you react to them

Managing other people who are crying 

To deal with crying you can:

  • allow the person to take a moment when tears come
  • wait for them to signal they are ready to move on: tell them to take their time and sit in silence, they will generally let you know when they’re ready to move on
  • offer to reschedule if the crying in uncontrollable, but only as a last resort. It’s always best to give someone some time and then move on, rather than make them feel wrong for crying

Managing other people who have confusion or fear

To deal with confusion or fear you can:

  • listen and ask about the fear
  • encourage them to speak about it by asking a few questions to show you’re curious and that you care
  • say you'd like to understand what's causing the fear so you can help them move forward; don’t try to diffuse or soften their emotions
  • listen to them; most people want to be listened to and understood
  • withhold judgement when they respond
  • listen with compassion; this will help them to build courage
  • support them in taking steps to move forward and alleviate or resolve the situation

Managing anger and aggression

To deal with anger and aggression you can:

  • be aware of changes in the behaviour in the person you are with, especially if you're discussing something that could result in an angry or irritated response. It's very rare for aggression or violence to come from nowhere
  • try to use your own communication skills to defuse a difficult situation early on, thinking how about how tone, volume and body language can help to create a calming atmosphere
  • try to remain calm if the person you are with is getting angry. It’s best not to meet aggression with aggression
  • avoid entering the aggressor’s personal space or touching them, as this could make them feel threatened and can escalate the situation
  • beware of your own body language, adopting a neutral and non-threatening position to help create a calming atmosphere

Things to remember when dealing with anger and aggression

Remember to:

  • trust your instincts
  • never underestimate a threat
  • act right away if you feel uneasy or alarm bells start ringing

What to do if you can’t de-escalate the situation

If you can't de-escalate the situation you should:

  • get away from the aggressor
  • be assertive but avoid meeting aggression with aggression
  • use exit strategies: have a pre-planned way to excuse yourself from a difficult situation. For example, you can’t help them so you're going to get someone who can sort the problem out for them
  • apply diversion techniques to distract them while you make your exit
  • use your voice; shout a specific instruction such as “Call the police!”
  • use a personal safety alarm
  • remember that the earlier you spot a potential problem arising the more choices you have to avoid it

Reporting and recording

When dealing with people you should:

  • talk to your manager about the reporting procedure and who to go to if something happens to you
  • report near misses as well as actual incidents

Watch this short video about how to deal with an angry customer:

Challenging interactions can be stressful as there are often varying degrees of emotions to deal with, as well as the practical aspects of the situation. Try to remember these tips:

  • it’s useful to have a systematic approach to help you deal with these interactions in a professional way
  • how you respond will determine how the other person feels at the end of the interaction
  • your own emotions may be triggered, particularly if the other person is angry or upset, or if you feel under pressure to deliver or achieve something
  • being aware of your feelings and the ability to set them to one side until you have dealt with the situation is important
  • it’s important that you have ways of dealing with your own emotions in an appropriate way to ensure that any feelings you have are not transferred to the next person you interact with
  • understanding the basic principles of emotional intelligence will help you deal with these challenges and you’ll be better prepared to listen, empathise, exceed expectations and deal with problems effectively

Take a look at this short video about developing emotional intelligence:

Talk it through

You may be having to deal with more challenging situations than usual during this time. It can be helpful to talk things through with your peers, your manager or trained colleagues in the Breathing Space.

Find additional support from the Employee Wellbeing team, email:

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