Facility Security, Policies and Training

7 Security Pro Tips for Dealing with Emotionally Confrontational Individuals

Security professionals often deal with emotionally confrontational colleagues from the same or other departments, vendors, and customers. These workers could be upset for a variety of reasons; some might be dealing with the worst days of their lives, while others are just projecting their pent-up anger onto others.

Ways of dealing with emotionally confrontational individuals were discussed during the session “Strategies for Managing Encounters with Emotionally Confrontational Individuals,” which was part of the recent International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) 54th Annual Conference and Exhibition 2022 in Reno, Nevada.

Brendan Riley, chairperson of the IAHSS Boston Chapter and director of security, parking, and transportation at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, said when dealing with emotional people, “it’s human nature to throw gasoline on the flames of acting out behavior, so we have to be prepared.”

During the session, Riley also shared seven lessons he learned throughout his 20 years of working in security and dealing with emotionally confrontational individuals that are applicable to security professionals in all sectors:

1. Understand that lashing out is a coping mechanism.

People who lash out, which can involve being agitated or aggressive, often feel stressed, frustrated, or afraid. “We have to understand we’re going to see people overwhelmed and at their worst and we cannot meet their expectations,” Riley noted.

Factors that could cause someone to lash out at security professionals include:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Relationship issues
  • Job loss
  • Chronic alcohol use
  • Substance use disorder
  • Early childhood trauma
  • Stress
  • Distrust of authority
  • Loss of power

2. Taking a deep breath and walking away can be valuable.

If possible, before an encounter with a difficult individual, it’s best to take a deep breath. For extremely stressful situations, take a really deep breath.

Security professionals who have a difficult time dealing with an individual should walk away and let their colleagues take over. They could have a preplanned code word that could be used as a way to communicate that someone needs to walk away from a situation.

Specific forms of disrespect are not part of the job and can include:

  • Physical attack
  • Verbal abuse
  • Unruly behavior

Security professionals should report all acts of discrimination to human resources and law enforcement, and the employee assistance program should be contacted if needed.

Disconnecting from work by hanging out with family and friends or colleagues after hours is also important.

3. Giving another chance is important.

Security professionals should make every attempt to make peace with others, if possible. It’s important to:

  • Give individuals a second or third chance.
  • Send in a substitute to accept an apology if they are not comfortable dealing with the person immediately or at all.
  • Place terms on moving forward, which can include a promise not to engage in an offending behavior.

4. Detaching and not judging are hard.

Detachment is necessary before work, during high-stress times, and after work. Riley explained that COVID-19 taught security professionals that it is OK not to be OK and that they should take regular breaks. If their colleagues are stressed out after a particular situation, they should allow those individuals to take an extra break.

Additionally, security professionals should not judge a person, no matter the individual’s visual characteristics, including clothing, age, gender, ethnicity, or body size. “I judge and I step out of bounds as a professional when I choose to react emotionally instead of responding thoughtfully,” Riley said.

 Therefore, security professionals should focus on empathic listening skills, which focus on:

  • No judgment: Let the individual tell his or her story.
  • Showing concern through nonverbal communication: Maintain good posture.
  • Paying attention: Hold eye contact and nod.
  • Listening carefully: Understand exactly why the individual is upset.
  • Being patient: Allow an individual to complete entire thoughts.
  • Restating and asking questions as needed: Understand the individual’s concerns and how you can help.

5. Kindness works.

Be kind to all, and treat everyone with dignity, even if they act badly. To effectively communicate with kindness and prevent violence, display calm confidence, lean in, and be supportive.

When dealing with rude individuals, security professionals should remember the acronym Q-TIP:

  • Quit
  • Taking
  • It
  • Personally

To prevent situations from escalating, use assertive responses only as needed and to the level warranted.

6. Forgive yourself.

Sometimes security professionals say and do the wrong thing. After making a mistake, simply think back and determine how to handle it better next time.

This mindset is important because it:

  • Helps you use challenges to grow
  • Enables you to learn new ways of thinking and acting
  • Helps you take feedback constructively

7. These people would do better if they could do better.

Those who are upset often do not want to be in the emotional state they are in. Therefore, security professionals should focus on:

  • Solving the problem, not trying to change the individual.
  • Requesting that an individual perform an action, then stating “if you choose not to” and what will happen, which gives the person a choice—for example, “To enter this medical office, you have to wear a mask. If you choose not to, you will be escorted out.”
  • Allowing time and space for the individual to reflect and make his or her choice, i.e., telling the individual “I will give you a couple of minutes to think about it.”

“I always try to be mindful of the fact that they are struggling with so much. The bad behavior is directed at us, but I like to tell people seldom if ever, is it about us,” Riley said.


It is important that security professionals implement these steps to help them defuse any situations with emotionally confrontational individuals. They also should report all violent situations to authorities. But, everyone deserves respect.

To watch “Strategies for Managing Encounters with Emotionally Disturbed People” in its entirety, click here. Slides from the presentation are available here.