Use nonverbal cues to ease angry patients

Nurse Leader Insider, December 16, 2019

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Believe it or not, your nonverbal communication techniques are the most important aspect of your de-escalation strategies when it comes to angry patients. Studies show that when in a rational state of mind, a person's body language conveys about 55% of his or her message and verbal communication only about 10%. When you de-escalate patient anger, your body language may be communicating more to your angry patient than are your words.

With that in mind, the following is some guidance for making sure your body language doesn't counteract your verbal de-escalation techniques:

  • Respect a patient's personal space. Personal space is the area around a person in which he or she feels safe. For most patients, about three feet should be a safe parameter. But allow up to six feet for patients who have a history of exhibiting aggressive behavior. Entering an upset person's personal space can intensify his or her emotions.
  • Maintaining an open stance. Caregivers should assume a stance in which they slightly turn their body at an angle to the patient while keeping their hands open and in plain view. Angry patients will perceive this stance as less threatening.
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact and facial expressions. Your face and eyes convey a direct message to the patient. You should maintain general eye contact, but not stare at the other person.

Editor's note: The above excerpt is from the online course Handling Difficult Patients: A Guide for Healthcare Staff. Check out our latest nursing resources here.

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