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9 Tips to Manage Difficult Clients and Family Members

As a home care aide, meeting and managing difficult clients and family members is all part of the job.

When an individual is making things difficult, it often reflects their dissatisfaction with the service provided. Whether their reaction is justified or not, it is our duty as caregivers to address their concerns and diffuse the situation diplomatically.

Here are 10 tips on how you can navigate a sticky situation with difficult clients or family members with ease:

1. Understand the problem

To be able to fully empathize with an individual, we have to first understand what they are going through. An individual in distress may complain about many seemingly trivial problems, but it is your duty to figure out the underlying reason for their actions.

For example, a client’s family member may be giving you a difficult time by complaining about food portions, room temperature, and other trivial issues, but their actions may truly stem from their fear and uncertainty from a lack of information about their loved one’s condition.

2. Empathize with the individual

Try to understand their point of view. With health concerns weighing heavily on their minds, it is understandable that people are not in the best of moods. The fear, worry, discomfort and helplessness they are experiencing can manifest as aggression and agitation, causing them to lash out at even the slightest inconvenience. However, keep in mind that in most of these cases, it isn’t a personal attack but a response to their fears.

3. Manage your emotions

When an individual lashes out at you, it is best not to react in kind. Reacting to the situation inappropriately can aggravate and escalate the situation. If you catch yourself responding or reacting negatively to the situation, step back, take a deep breath to stay calm and avoid getting defensive.

Remember, it’s not about you—it’s about them. More often than not, their emotions stem from a situation prior to your encounter. Detaching your emotions and showing concern for them instead may help to diffuse the situation.

4. Create a safe space for open communication

Create a safe space for your client and their family members to share their story and concerns. Show interest in what they have to say and give them ample of time and space to fully express their concerns and worries. If they become emotional, console them and allow them to unload their emotional baggage without judgement.

When given an opportunity to freely express their psychological and emotional needs, they may feel calmer and less distressed, allowing you to connect with them better.

5. Practice active listening

Active listening is a skill that all caregivers should have in their repertoire. Not only does it allow us to better manage difficult clients, it can come in handy in all sorts of communication—from consoling family members and building rapport with clients, to effective communication with fellow teammates, which is crucial in the home care field.

Here are some tips and tricks that can make even the most difficult clients feel heard and understood, so that they are able to calm down and communicate more effectively with you:

  • Eye contact

Eye contact is an important form of communication, especially in face-to-face interactions. However, too much eye contact can also seem intimidating, so you will have to adapt accordingly. You can maintain eye contact for a few seconds, then look to the side. Avoid looking down since it may make you seem avoidant and want to end the conversation.

  • Pay attention to their body language

Assess their tone of voice, word choice and body posture. Non-verbal cues can tell you a lot about how they are feeling and possibly the reason behind their actions.

  • Never interrupt

Interrupting can make it seem as if you are cutting them off rudely and not willing to spend the time to listen and solve their problems. If there are a few seconds of pause or silence, you don’t have to jump in immediately to fill up the space. Let them take some time to gather their thoughts and emotions before speaking, while you take the time to absorb and understand them as well.

  • Acknowledge the situation

You can start by saying something like, “I understand why you are feeling frustrated” to make them feel like both of you are on the same page, on the same side, and working to resolve the issue at hand together.

  • Paraphrase and summarize what they said

Occasionally repeating what they shared with you back to them is an effective way to show that you are paying attention and understand their point of view. It also allows an opportunity for them to clarify any points that you may have misunderstood, allowing for more effective communication.

6. Be proactive

If you notice that a client or their family members are distressed, don’t avoid them. The situation is unlikely to resolve itself, so it’s better to just nip it in the bud before it becomes a bigger problem. Take the first step and reach out to them. They will appreciate your attentiveness and proactiveness in approaching them to hear them out and address their concerns.

7. Watch your body language

While it can be subtle, your body language can help to calm the client and show your thoughts and intentions. If the client is agitated and you are frustrated, it can be difficult to make progress with them if you let your negative emotions show as well.

Take deep breaths to calm yourself down and refocus your energy to solving the problem at hand. Make a conscious effort to pay attention to your body language. You may slow down your speech or even sit down to show them that you are willing to spend the time to listen to their concerns and work out a solution together.

Adopt an open posture, which means you should avoid crossing your arms or legs, which can make you look defensive. Leaning forward or tilting your head slightly may also help to show that you are attentively listening to what they have to say.

Remember that the first step is to always recognize your response to the situation, and then control your thoughts, words, tone, and body language to convey your message and emotions effectively.

8. Figure out a solution

Once you find out why they are being difficult, find a solution to their problem. Let them know your next course of action to resolve this issue, and tell them to keep you updated with ongoing feedback to ensure the problem is adequately addressed and resolved.

Whenever possible, follow-up with the client so that they are aware of your dedication to solving their issue. This can help them feel reassured that you are on the same team as them, so if there are any other problems in the future, they may be more willing to resolve them amicably rather than make things difficult for you.

9. Set boundaries

While we strive to be understanding and accommodating in most situations, there has to be a limit. When an individual starts yelling profanities at you at the top of their lungs, it can constitute verbal abuse. Continue to stay calm, but firmly let them know that this behavior is not acceptable and that you deserve to receive the same respect you give.

Step out of the room to give them some time and space to calm down before continuing the conversation. If necessary, inform your office team and bring someone of them with you the next time you attempt to talk to them again.