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One factor in dealing with aggression can be the distance between you and the person. Distance can give us time to think and then react. We naturally allow certain people closer; we often give others a wide berth. However, at work, we may not have that luxury; often, caring for someone means invading their personal space and it is important to remember this can make them feel uncomfortable or anxious. We have to understand what ‘safe’ distances are and how they can help with conflict resolution.

INTIMATE ZONE - (less than half a metre) Close family/partners or people we have to get very close to so we can care for them
PERSONAL ZONE - (half a meter to 1.2 metres) People we know
SOCIAL ZONE - (1.2 metres to four metres) for most other people.

Having looked at the distances we are familiar with, we must now look at the distance we should adopt when dealing with conflict. This distance is known as the ‘reactionary gap. The ‘reactionary gap’ is the distance between the extremities of your reach and the extremities of your opponent’s reach… their reach includes any weapons they may have!

We have looked at the way we communicate with others and how this can influence their behaviour and help to de-escalate a conflict situation. The transactional analysis showed us how our ego state can affect what we are trying to say, and we have considered the factors that can cause a breakdown in communication. Different models of communication have been provided that can act as tools to assist in conflict resolution and we have also covered the behaviours people can exhibit that help us to make decisions about our actions.

Whilst dealing with other people, we must be continually alert to what is going on around us. A situation can change very rapidly. A simple strategy for coping with conflict situations includes the following actions:

  • Be aware and be alert; constantly observe what is going on around you.
  • Assess and acknowledge that situations can change rapidly and will call for regular assessment.
  • Plan and prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

We recognise that there will be some situations that we will not be able to resolve and that there may be times when the other person’s behaviour may become threatening, abusive or even violent. When responding to these challenges, our first consideration should be our own safety and, in doing so, we have to decide between ‘Flight’ and ‘Fight’.

The ‘flight or fight’ response is the body’s natural reaction to a potentially dangerous situation. Our brains have an inbuilt system for preparing the body when threatened, readying it for running away or fighting.  This response to anything that is perceived as a threat or potential threat begins in certain primitive parts of the brain, which send a message to the adrenal glands. These begin a process which releases a number of hormones, including adrenaline, whose purpose is to prepare the body for vigorous emergency action.

Flight should be your preferred option and is safer. Never stay in a situation in which you feel uncomfortable; remember, even if your job role means that you work with a ‘duty of care’, this duty of care starts with you. If flight is not possible, compliance might be the safer option. Remember, the property is not worth being physically attacked for. When it comes to physical attack, always leave a ‘way out’ wherever possible.

Unfortunately, fight might be the only viable option. If it is, you should be aware of the limitations and legal requirements; the following laws are relevant if you have to protect yourself physically.