There are many things that may cause a person to become upset and begin using their behavior in dangerous ways. In our training, we discuss the fact that behavior may be used as communication; a way of meeting needs; conforming to expectations; influencing the people or environment around us; coping with demands; controlling impulses; the result of medical or psychiatric issues; or, the result of complex neurological or sensory processes. It is challenging with an entire team of people to understand the function behind a person’s behavior. When we are working alone, that challenge is most definitely compounded.
This comes back to all the things we advocate so strongly for in training – we must develop healthy relationships with people and be much more proactive. It is imperative that we know what helps people to feel safe – and also realize that the only person we can control is us. When a person’s behavior starts to look dangerous (shouting, threatening, etc.) the first thing we want to do is take a deep breath and a step back. Trying to give people time and space can sometimes help the situation de-escalate. Acknowledge their feelings and help people identify what those feelings might be (we refer to this as reflective listening). Tune into what people are saying with their words, but also ask yourself how the person sounds – the tone, pitch, and speed of their voice. What is that telling you?
Maybe we can redirect a person to a preferred activity – whatever that may be. A leisure activity, a stress reducer (cup of coffee, cigarette, etc.), or perhaps even just getting a person’s visual focus off of whatever is causing them stress and onto something else (“did you see it started raining outside?”). This won’t be a long term solution, but it might be enough to prevent a potentially dangerous situation from getting even worse.
Try to get to a more personal level with people – things like humor and using a person’s name can help. Of course, we don’t want to use humor at the expense of anyone else (poking fun at others is not treating them with dignity and respect) but a well-placed quip may lighten the mood and help calm heightened emotions. Using a person’s name may show them that we care and relate to them. Acknowledging their feelings is typically not a bad idea either!
Avoid the knee-jerk response to move in (physically) and try to just give people time and space. As staff we need to ask ourselves if whatever we are trying to accomplish at the moment really needs to be done right here and right now. Sometimes we have our own agendas as well. Let’s take a minute to manage our own behavior first.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when we are alone though is that we have limitations – each of us has physical, emotional, and psychological limitations. If those limitations mean that we can no longer keep a situation safe the best thing to do is call for some assistance. Possibly the worst thing we can do is to try to exceed our limitations.
We welcome opportunities to partner with you as you offer services to others in a way that treats them with dignity and respect. Please don’t hesitate to contact The Mandt System to see how we might be able to assist you in that process.
Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty