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The hostile relatives dilemma

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I feel I am doing a really good job on my ward, and my manager has told me so. However, I am told that I do not handle hostile relatives very well. What can I do to deal with these situations more effectively?

First of all, it is important that your manager gives you specific examples of your apparent shortcomings in this regard. Be clear about the particular issues involved and consider what you can do to improve the situation. Always remember that hostile relatives might just have concerns that need to be dealt with.

When you are confronted by an angry relative, listen fully and don’t interrupt. If you do, it will escalate and increase the relative’s anger. Take notes but look up often to maintain eye contact. Assume body language that shows you are interested and concerned. At this stage you are trying to get to the bottom of what the problem is.

Always use a respectful tone even though you might not respect the person’s behaviour. Use a calm but concerned tone of voice. Don’t become distracted. Try to remove the angry relatives from the main ward area, if possible. Some will rant and rave for the attention, knowing many people will give them what they want to silence them quickly.

If the angry relative is on the phone you need to take steps to allow them to cool down. One way of doing this is to say that you need to look into the situation and possible solutions, and ask if you may call them back. Then do so at the appointed time. They probably will have calmed down by then.

Always try to talk about what you can do, not what you can’t do. Put it positively. Don’t talk about the ‘policy’ because this will anger the relative even more. If necessary repeat firmly, yet politely, what you can do for them, even if this sometimes sounds like a broken record.

You should try to ignore any impoliteness on their part. They are likely to be lashing out at your organisation, rather than you personally. If you feel the situation is getting out of hand you should involve your manager once you have exhausted all your attempts to satisfy the angry relative.

Chris Pearce, formerly a director of nursing, is a life coach with www.lifegoalspecialists.co.uk

If you would like to contribute to NT’s Opinion section, please email richard.evans@emap.com or write to Nursing Times (Opinion), Emap Inform, Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7EJ

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