As a security guard you are oftentimes the first responder to most issues that arise. It can be dealing with a complaint, enforcing a rule, taking care of belligerent individuals, or even attending to an emergency situation.
Security guards will often encounter difficult people. Especially when stationed in higher-risk areas or high-stress environments. These can sometimes lead to difficult situations. Always keep in mind, when dealing with difficult people, to stay calm. You need to be able to clearly communicate with them. Your job is to de-escalate the situation. But, we all know that the presence of authority can often lead to escalation. So that’s why it’s important to control the situation as best you can.
In this article we will list out 7 important tips for dealing with difficult people as a security guard.
1. Remain calm and professional
The most important thing is to keep calm and stay professional. If the person you are dealing with is being difficult or aggressive, it can be hard not to get emotional ourselves. But as a professional, we are required to manage our emotions and do the right thing regardless of how the other person is acting. The best way to do this is to remember to breathe deeply - this slows down your emotional response and allows you to think clearly and logically.
You should always avoid getting into an argument or escalating the situation. Sometimes when we are enforcing a certain rule, law or policy, people don't like being told what to do, so they argue with us. This can activate our ego and we can be tempted to "make them" do what we want. However, as a security guard we have to remember that it's not our job to force people to do anything. If the situation escalates into a dangerous situation, then that's where you'd activate your emergency procedures, such as call the police. If the person argues with us, or even is disrespectful, we must de-personalize the situation, meaning, they are not upset with you personally, just our job in general. Then we do our best to work with them to find a win-win solution.
At Tip of Spear we offer a Tactical Communications course which teaches how to have difficult conversations when enforcing a rule, law or policy so that you get cooperation and the person you're dealing with goes away happy. The training helps you avoid escalation and reduce the use of force in any situation. You can read more about that training here.
2. Use non-threatening body language
Your body language can have a big impact on how the person perceives you. Avoid crossing your arms or taking an aggressive stance. Instead, try to maintain an open and non-threatening posture.
Of course, as a security guard you need to continuously stay alert. But by showing you're comfortable to the distressed individual, you’re able to help them calm down. You are influencing their behaviour positively by how you act.
It’s especially important if your team members are attending to the situation with you. The additional security personnel can be intimidating to an individual, so they should remain a few steps back unless they are immediately needed for safety reasons.
3. Actively listen
Work to genuinely understand the person's concerns and needs, rather than just tell them what to do. If they are doing something that breaks a law or policy, find out why in a respectful way. Perhaps there is a good reason for what they are doing!
Listen actively to what they are saying, by nodding your head, looking at them in the eye and verbally affirming them. This can help defuse the situation and make the person feel heard.
You also need to look at a situation from the individual's point-of-view. After all, they are the ones reacting to their situation. Use empathy to acknowledge what the person is emotionally experiencing - this gives them a safe space to feel heard. Empathy is the single greatest way to de-escalate any situation! This should allow you to understand their current issue and then work with them to resolve that issue.
4. Communicate clearly
Be clear and concise in your communication. Avoid using technical jargon or complex language. And use simple, straightforward language to convey your message. Don’t avoid them. Speak directly to them and treat them as individuals, not as suspects or perpetrators. Speak to them calmly, firmly and kindly at all times.
We always start by assuming that people don't intend to break any policies or laws. We give them the benefit of the doubt that they just aren't aware of the rules, so it's our job to gently educate them. We explain what the rules are and why they are important. If they repeated break any rules, that is a different situation and you would escalate that based on your company's policies.
5. Offer solutions
Once you understand the person's concerns, work with them to come up with solutions that meet their needs and that of the company you are working for! A security guard isn't just there to tell people what they can't do; you're there to provide customer service and help them! You need to remember that who you are dealing with are often every day people just like yourself. Imagine yourself in those situations - what would you want a security guard to say to you? Would you want them to tell you "no" or would you want them to give you some options?
For example, perhaps an individual is smoking by the front door of a building, which happens to be the violation of a municipal bylaw. After educating them, give them some options on where they can smoke, such as a designated smoking area or a further distance away.
6. Seek back-up if needed
If the situation takes a turn for the worse where you feel like yours or other people's safety is at risk, don't hesitate to call for backup. This includes calling in other security guards or even law enforcement if necessary, depending on your company's specific policies. Sometimes, the worst-case scenario happens. In that case, it’s important to take advantage of your security service resources to help. That’s why your security team is there with you, to provide you support when things go from bad to worse.
7. Document the incident
It's important to document any incidents in which you had to deal with a difficult person. This can help protect you in case of any legal or disciplinary action.
Most security companies require you to fill out incident reports. You also learn how as part of your security guard training. Each security company will have their own incident report template, but they all generally ask for the same type of information. Ensure you include all the facts by answering the 5 Ws:
The security industry is full of interesting encounters. Some are easily resolved, and others are not. The important thing is that everybody goes home at the end of the day. You want to try to avoid escalating a situation to the point where people get injured, arrested, or worse. But we can't always avoid it. That’s just the nature of your work environment as a security guard.
Thankfully as a security guard you have direct access to emergency services. So no matter what you know there’s a team of people ready to come and support you if things go sideways.
De-escalating situations and dealing with difficult people is a skill that we get to improve on our entire life. The better we get at this, the easier it is to deal with others and the better we get at any job!