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How do I deal with an angry family member?

A patient’s family can become angry for any number of reasons. This anger is usually brought on by fear. Their loved one has become weakened, and there’s nothing they can do about it. This is very frustrating, and frustration leads to anger.

If you encounter an angry family member, empathy is always the best medicine—unless, of course, medicine is the best medicine. If they start to shout at you, don’t shout back. The person’s anger isn’t a reflection or a judgment of you as a nurse or a person. It’s a reaction to the fear that family member feels. If the family member continues to shout, get help from a coworker in case the person becomes violent, or calmly remove yourself from the room.

Here are some ground rules for dealing with an angry family member:

1. If they are yelling, stop and just listen. Calmly ask them about this problem. Let the family member voice her concerns, but ask the person in a calm tone not to shout.

2. Don’t get defensive, and don’t take it personally. The patient needs to feel safe. By letting the family member air grievances, both real and imagined, you’re helping to alleviate the patient’s fear. Being a sounding board for concerns sometimes works to calm people down—their anger has built up inside, and voicing it to the nurse often can relieve anger.

3. Ask follow-up questions and ask about specifics. Let the family member know you’re an ally by showing concern for her concerns.

4. Be empathetic. Attempt to address the underlying cause of the person’s anger. It’s most likely fear.

5. Let the family member know you’re there to help. Bring them information to study about the patient’s condition. Try to find a doctor or counselor who has a few moments to talk about the person’s fear.

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