While we nurses are in the business of saving lives, we sometimes have to remember that part of our “business” (I used this term loosely) involves disgruntled customers. Yes, our patients can be unhappy and are sometimes, if not often, downright angry.
Patients can become emotionally charged, and it’s our job to extinguish the fire before it explodes. Many nurses haven’t mastered the art of de-escalation, and while their efforts have good intentions, they can magnify patients’ negative emotional states instead of calming them down.
Here are five surefire ways to calm your patients:
Talk to Them, Not at Them
One of the most common mistakes we nurses make when trying to calm patients is using unfortunate dictator/educator speech mannerisms. In our attempt to de-escalate their anger, we subconsciously start to talk at them instead of talking to them about how our suggestions are “good for them.”
Lower Your Voice
Elevating your voice does not make you right and the patient wrong. Also, elevating your voice gives your patient the cue to elevate his or her own voice. The conversation becomes a screaming match and all bets are off. You’d be surprised at what can be accomplished by you lowering the tone and level of your voice.
Focus on Them
While all of us want to focus on the matter at hand and solve whatever problems our patients are facing, most often the source of the anger has nothing to do with the apparent problem. As part of the healthcare team, you know your patient the best. Your knowledge and empathy extends beyond diagnoses and medical illnesses. Dig deeper to help.
Focus on Their Needs
Sometimes the solution is so apparent and easy that we miss its simplicity. Is it about their care? About their illness? Maybe it’s about something beyond the walls of the hospital? Never forget to take care of the whole patient, not just the patient as a whole. The solution to the problem is often answering the question, “What do THEY need?” not “What do YOU need?” to make them happy.
Sometimes we need to be more than our patient’s advocate. We need to help them gain their independence during a time when they feel the most vulnerable. Give them some control over the decisions that are made concerning their care. Empower them by giving them choices, not ultimatums. Ask them to choose between two options, not “Do this or nothing at all.”
A very simple example is asking a patient when he or she wants to get cleaned up, before or after breakfast, instead of simply asking him or her, “Do you want to get cleaned up?”
If all else fails, try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you are the patient and not the nurse. How would you feel?