The previous article looked at what violence and aggression is, and how our body reacts to it. This months will focus on how we can try to control the situation.
Body language (Non verbal communication)
As much as 90% of our communication is non verbal. We need to think about our own body language at work and be able to read that of who we care for whilst remembering some people’s body language can be affected by their physical or mental health.
- Eyes: Constant eye contact can make people feel uncomfortable, but not enough can seem like we are not interested or taking the person seriously.
- Body posture: Shows a lot about what we think an can tell us a lot about the person who we are caring for.
- Anxiety: Clenched hands, fiddling with clothes / hair, fidgeting / changing position, or frowning.
- Disapproving: Pulling away, folded arms, stiff or upright, looking down and raised eyebrows.
- Frustrated: Sighing, eyes raised upwards, shaking of head, and jerky hand movements.
- Aggression: Clenched fists, finger wagging, shaking of head, arm waving, a rigid posture and or tense muscles.
- Threatened: Closed posture, arms folded, averted gaze, and backing or shying away.
- Relaxed: Open posture, arms relaxed, smiling, head up, good eye contact and flowing movements.
Verbal abuse is the most common form of abuse. This includes:
- Put downs
- Name calling
- Shouting and swearing
- Condescending remarks
- Patronising, humiliating, oppressive language
- Not being listened to
- Disparaging remarks and slander
An aggressor can often use personal characteristics to insult a person such as physical appearance, size, race, sexual orientation etc.
When it feels personal it is difficult to remain calm and non defensive. Try to think why the person is being verbally abusive, as knowing why this is happening helps towards a reconciliation. It is worth noting that if we show we are frightened or upset the situation can quickly escalate.
Threats show the situation is getting worse. They mustn’t be ignored. They need to be dealt with so the situation doesn’t escalate.
Anger can quickly turn into aggression or violence and needs to be acted on. What can you do?
- Avoid being involved in the anger by feeling angry yourself, Remember: feelings are just feelings. We can think before we act.
- Remaining calm is important but be sensitive as to whether our calmness is agitating the person further.
- Actively listen to why they may be feeling angry. Hear them out and listen for changes in mood, tone, pitch, feelings, and statements of intent. Do not jump to conclusions.
- Show empathy / understanding, gently suggest ways to tackle their problems
- Avoid a lot of eye contact.
- Keep steady and calm tone of voice, with even pitch and delivery. Speak slowly and clearly. Choose your words, clarify your actions, show concern, give encouragement, ask open questions, refrain from arguing and resist the desire to win! Be polite
- Sit at 45% to them if you are sitting.
- Avoid standing. If you are standing do not stand face to face as this is confrontational.
- Remember your safety is paramount so try to keep your distance from the person and try to have the exit from the room near you so you are not trapped.
- If you feel very threatened it is a good idea to personalise it such as “I am frightened now”.
- Ask for their behaviour to STOP. Try talking and asking questions to regain control of the situation.
If you are physically attacked:
- You must tell your employer to stop, let them know it is hurting, then break away from the situation in the easiest, less damaging way.
- Only use the minimum amount of force to protect yourself.
- Force should be reasonable, justifiable, and necessary to control the situation
Remember the law
An assault is any act which intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend (expect) immediate and unlawful personal violence. An assault is an attempt, threat or offer to apply unlawful force sufficient to create fear that violence may take place. Words or silence can amount to assault. Battery is an actual physical assault, this can include being pushed in the back or the holding of an arm. If a complaint was made the police would be obliged to investigate this. (Criminal Law Act 1967)
Help and support
If you are experiencing any of this at work or indeed at home there are people and organisations that can help you.
- Our PA Support Service can be called in complete confidence.
- If you are a member of a union contact them. Unison supports personal assistants.
- Unison 08000857857
- Samaritans 08457909090
- Relate 03001001234
- Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) 03001231100
- Support Line 01708765200