How to calm a tense encounter

To prevent violent behaviors from patients or family members, quell tensions before they escalate.


To ensure that Asante’s workspaces are free of violent or abusive behavior, the Workplace Violence Prevention team is developing resources and tools to help employees protect themselves and prevent potential problems from spiraling into confrontations.

De-escalation techniques

Our words and demeanor have the power to defuse tensions, so be attuned to your tone of voice, choice of words and body language. Basic guidance includes:

  • Allow the person to express concern. “Please tell me what’s bothering you.”
  • Use a shared problem-solving approach. “How can we correct this problem?”
  • Be empathetic. “I understand how frustrating this must be for you.”
  • Avoid being defensive or contradictory. This only exacerbates a tense situation.
  • Apologize if appropriate. “I’m sorry this happened. Let’s find a way to fix it.”
  • Follow through with their problem. “I’m going to bring this to my supervisor immediately.”
  • Avoid blaming others or giving the “It’s not my job” message. Instead say, “Let me get someone who can help you with this problem.”
  • Be alert to early signs of a patient’s rising anxiety; perhaps offer an empathic inquiry such as, “You seem to be upset. Can you tell me what’s troubling you?”

It is important to be aware of your body position and posture to avoid escalating an already tense situation.

  • Be calm (or at least act calm). Maintain non-threatening eye contact, smile and keep your hands open and visible.
  • Nod your head to show that you are paying attention.
  • Respect personal space. Maintain an arm’s-length distance from the person. Avoid touching the upset person because it may be misinterpreted.
  • Approach the patient from an angle or from the side.
  • Convey confidence in your ability to resolve the situation.
  • Use supportive body language. Avoid threatening gestures, such as finger-pointing or crossed arms.
  • Avoid laughing or smiling inappropriately.

If someone shows signs of losing control:

  • Get help before trouble starts. Use a prearranged warning signal to alert others.
  • Appear calm. This will help calm the person.
  • Talk slowly and calmly. Use a firm, confident voice.
  • Don’t threaten but explain consequences of inappropriate behavior.
  • Try to leave yourself an escape route and seek safety at your first opportunity.

Take time to debrief the situation with co-workers, supervisors or, when needed, the Asante Employee Assistance Program.

Adapted from the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Prevent Workplace Violence

Get more information about workplace violence prevention, coping strategies and resources on the Asante Wellness Workplace Violence Prevention page.

Tags: de-escalation, Jennifer Nidalmia, STAT, tips, Workplace Violence Prevention
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