Managing aggressive behaviour

If a client becomes violent or aggressive and is threatening violence you need to:

  • Follow organisational procedures to remain safe
  • Clear the space as much as possible
  • Remove others from the scene
  • Speak to the client in a clear, non-provocative manner
  • Give the person enough personal space
  • Use voice and eye contact to attempt to maintain the balance
  • Use diversion if possible – a change of focus, distraction, or interrupt train of thought.
  • Inform other staff as soon as possible
  • Call emergency response teams if needed (including police, ambulance, mental health response teams).

How do I protect myself and others in a situation of violence?

Protecting yourself and others from a violent attack is essential. There are three zones surrounding the aggressor as shown in the graphic below.

Danger and safety zones. The agressor is in the danger zone.

Zone 1 The distant safety zone, where you cannot be reached by a punch or kick.
Zone 2 The close safety zone, where the aggressor cannot effectively deliver a major blow to you with their knees, elbows or head.
Zone 3 The danger zone, where an employee can be struck forcibly.

Note: Ensure that you stay in the safety zone at all times – Zone 1


The following may help you to deal with aggressive clients:

  • An individual who is violent is more likely to move straight ahead, less easily sideways, and with difficulty backwards.
  • Avoid standing directly in front of the aggressor and stay away from the danger zone.
  • Keep your posture relaxed and stand slightly off centre to the aggressor’s weaker side. This can sometimes be hard to determine, but it is usually opposite to the hand they write with.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart to maintain a basic balance. If there is likely to be an attack, then the dominant leg should be slightly to the rear, knee unbent and other leg slightly forward of the body and bent slightly. This will minimise the likelihood of being knocked to the ground.
  • Use eye contact carefully, as too much can be interpreted as a challenging gesture.
  • Walk away. If the situation seems totally uncontrollable, leave as quickly as possible and go to a safe place.

Activity 3.1


You have been working with a relatively new male client, helping him to get accommodation and helping him to link with other support networks in the community. This has been a fairly stressful process for your client, as he appears to struggle with his abilities to communicate constructively with others, and therefore to develop meaningful relationships.

Unbeknown to you, your client turns up at your organisation one morning, several days before his scheduled appointment, demanding to see you, his client worker. Unfortunately you are tied up with another worker in planning an important meeting for the following day. You become aware of the situation when you hear loud, demanding and aggressive language coming from the waiting room. Since this is obviously a potential crisis situation developing, you and your fellow worker proceed to the waiting room to see what is happening, and to provide support to the administration staff person.

You discover that your client is demanding to see you now, and appears to have become enraged very quickly, but you already have another client appointment in 10 minutes time. This female client has already arrived, is seated in the waiting room, and is beginning to look quite anxious about the behaviour of the rather large male client.

How do you handle the situation to manage the unacceptable behaviour, with due concern for the safety and needs of those present?

Last modified: Thursday, 3 December 2015, 11:44 AM