Fact sheetWorking with consumers

Published on 29 Mar 2021

1. Responding to a difficult situation

At times when you work with consumers you may be required to deal with  difficult situations and discussions. For example, consumers may become distressed when they share past experiences. If this happens, keep in mind that the wellbeing of the person and staff members is always more important than the work or conversation at hand.

Dealing with strong emotional responses can be extremely challenging. It is best to remain calm and professionally detached so you don’t become distressed or express inappropriate emotion.

An inappropriate emotional response can stop you thinking and acting clearly and, importantly, it pulls the focus away from the participant in distress.

Similarly, participants will not disclose emotional content to someone who is trying to avoid discussing such content. Therefore, always ensure that your behaviour is as comfortable as possible, so the consumer is put at ease.

Try these strategies:

  1. Offer the person the opportunity to take a break or withdraw from the conversation.
  2. If the consumer decides to continue, do:
    • ask them what they are thinking and feeling
    • listen to the person without judgement or interruption
    • reassure them that you want to hear what they have to say
    • ask open-ended questions to find out more about their thoughts and feelings, then summarise what they have and clarify important points to ensure these are fully understood
    • express empathy and thank the person for sharing their feelings
    • acknowledge that sharing takes courage.

    do not:

    • argue or debate with the person about their thoughts or feelings
    • discuss whether their feelings or experiences are right or wrong
    • minimise the person’s problems or experiences
    • give artificial reassurance, such as, ‘don’t worry,’ ‘cheer up’ or ‘everything will be all right’
    • interrupt with stories of your own
    • communicate a lack of interest or negative attitude through your body language.
  3. Follow up afterwards and give the person the contact details of a relevant  person who can provide psychosocial support.(1)

Remember, you are not responsible for the experience the person had and it is not your role to ‘fix’ what happened.

The aim of your work with consumers is to learn from the past to improve the services of the future. Your role is to listen, understand and act with empathy and, where necessary, apply a duty of care.

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