By definition, aggressive behaviour can be described as an action that ‘can cause physical or emotional harm to others, which may range from verbal abuse to physical abuse or destruction of property.’
Sadly, this is something many of us know all too well, especially those who have been confronted by angry customers in the workplace. We have put together some tips on how best to deal with people who are behaving aggressively to help defuse the situation and maintain the safety of not just yourself, but those around you.
The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Although it’s easy to lose your cool, showing your frustration is likely to end up making matters worse, potentially resulting in violence. Instead, take a deep breath and speak softly, being mindful not to raise your voice or say anything that may deliberately provoke the other party.
Even if you’re speaking calmly, aggressive body language may be sending out negative non-verbal cues. Pacing, tapping, clenching your fists or crossing your arms could give away that you are uncomfortable or even be interpreted as hostile. Try to be confident and act in control, even if you feel intimidated try your best to conceal this. Also, refrain from smiling as it may come across that you are laughing or making fun of the customer.
When people are angry they need more personal space, getting too close to them can be threatening. If possible, try to position yourself behind a counter or table so that there is a physical barrier between yourself and the aggressor in case they turn violent. Avoid any physical contact unless absolutely necessary, as again this may cause provocation.
Although an individual may be behaving unreasonably, there is often a root cause or grievance that has triggered this behavior. Allowing them to speak and listening to what they have to say often helps calm them down, as in many cases people just need to vent their frustration. When the individual is talking, don’t’ interrupt, maintain eye contact and show you are acknowledging what they are saying. Reassure them by making sure they know you are trying to help.
To calm somebody down, you have to know why they are annoyed in the first place. When it’s your turn to speak, ask what you can do to resolve their problem and if possible try to strike a compromise.
If this approach fails and there’s no end in sight to the conflict or if the customer becomes physically abusive then you should dial the Police immediately. Depending on the circumstances this may not be an option, so carrying a personal safety alarm can be a lifesaver as it allows you to call for assistance by simply pressing a button. Devices such as Skyguard’s MySOS are also backed up by a team of Controllers who can listen in, communicate with you and summon the emergency services if necessary.
Situations where people are being aggressive are by no means easy, but following the above steps should help to make you feel more prepared, should these circumstances arise.