Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dealing with Irate Clients

"So you which way do you think got this done (getting electricity turned back on), your way or my way with writing letters?" My client asks me and I hear the anger in her voice.

I almost shrug to convey it didn't matter if it was my making calls on her behalf or my client's 10-page letters to the electric company. "Whichever way it was, it worked." My client immediately relaxes and smiles.

I admire people who are able to diffuse tense situations and deal with angry people effectively. This situation wasn't extreme -- my client wasn't angry beyond control but I knew her and detected the edge in her voice that in the past has sometimes led to a much angrier state. I was able to diffuse her anger but I see case managers who seem to be naturally adept at this.

My experience of taking a Crisis Prevention class reinforced to me the logical rule that every stage of anger (and in my opinion, each client) takes a different approach from a case manager. During early stages it's still possible to use rationality. If I see a client's annoyed, depending on the situation, I try to assess why she's upset and what can be done at that moment. to change her mood. Does she just want to vent, does she want something specific to happen? Is it possible to have it done? Is it something as simple as changing the subject to a more pleasing topic? Ability to think quick helps here and this is something I continue to work on. It alsousually helps to know the client because you know more easily what calms her or him down.

I remember another case manager walking down the hall with a client who was bawling, this deep cry like a wounded animal. Fifteen minutes later the case manager passed again with the client, talking assuredly at her and the client nodding back, her body language softened.I later asked my coworker what she did to calm her client down. My coworker said she told her client to take a deep breathe, then asked her what's the first thing she needs to do. So simple.

More difficult are times when there's just nothing that can be done at that particular moment to calm a client down. Like in situations when a person hasn't taken his psych medication or that he's so angry he's beyond the stage of rationality. I've had clients go off on me angrily without me knowing what triggered them. Rarely have I had to leave the situation because it became too tense and I had to ask another case manager to intervene. On other occasions, I've also had a client that would always grimace at me like she was tasting a particularly sour glass of lemonade, but a joke or even silly attempt of humor was enough to establish a connection.

I also didn't touch on the distinction between situations when a client is angry and a client is angry at you, the case manager. But that's for another post.


Ash H. said...

I am hoping, at some point in my Social Work education, that they will teach us some form of conflict management. This is probably the most concerning part about entering the field for me. I am not a confrontational person, and I need to learn how to mask my emotions. I am easily hurt and I cry when I'm angry. ugh. :/

Anatolia said...

I'm also pretty sensitive. I try to encourage myself to make a switch in my head (the distancing switch, not to take things personally) but it's not always easy. Especially when one works intensively with a client.