Client encounters

Your organisation and workplace have a duty of care to maintain and promote your own safety and wellbeing.

Unfortunately, there is potential for unsafe encounters with clients. This can mean physical, emotional, and social risks or harms. (A social harm could include clients making negative comments about or encouraging people to snub you.)

Take preventative action

If you are meeting in person, sit down in the chair closest to the door. You might use a physical duress alarm (‘panic button’) or an app that does the same thing.

You should follow your organisation’s policy around when and where to meet with clients and contacts. Organisation policy and procedures aim to protect you as well as the client from risks/harms. For instance, it might be convenient to meet a client/contact somewhere near your home, but this exposes you to the risk of being followed home. Likewise you might receive a request to add a new client/contact on social media, but this creates a threat to your own privacy.

De-escalation techniques

The NSW Health department recommends the LOWLINE model for de-escalating angry or tense situations:

  • Listen to what the issue is and the person’s concerns.
  • Offer reflective comments to show that you have heard what their concerns are.
  • Wait until the person has released their frustration and explained how they are feeling.
  • Look and maintain appropriate eye contact to connect with the person.
  • Incline your head slightly, to show you are listening and give you a non-threating posture.
  • Nod to confirm that you are listening and have understood.
  • Express empathy to show you have understood.

Source: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/psychosocial/strategies/Pages/managing-anger.aspx

Debrief, reflect and prevent

When situations involving anger or physical violence arise, it is really important to follow up appropriately.

  • Debrief immediately with your manager/supervisor (including someone ‘higher up’ if your manager/supervisor is on leave or unavailable).
  • Reflect on what happened and identify changes that could be made in policy, procedure and practice to prevent similar situations in future.
  • Recognise that you were doing your best and what happened is not in any sense ‘your fault.’

Obligations of your workplace

Safe Work Australia guidelines provide a concise outline of the steps a workplace can take to promote worker safety in the face of anger, aggression and physical violence.

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-01/Guide%20for%20preventing%20workplace%20violence%20and%20aggression%20-%20for%20publishing.pdf

Exercise

  • Why is debriefing important after an incident where a client becomes aggressive?
  • In your view, does a client becoming angry during a session mean they should be excluded from the service altogether? Why or why not?