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Tips for Employment Consultants Defusing Angry Job Seekers

30 August 2021

Just when the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel began to appear, the declaration of lockdowns, border closures and increased restrictions around Australia have resulted in rising tension, and growing angst surrounding stable employment, and income. Some of the most affected, are our Job Seekers, and where there are pent up emotions, there often also resides potential conflict.

What is conflict?

Conflict can look and sound very different depending on the individuals involved. Technically, conflict is defined as a disagreement, struggle or fight that occurs when two or more people’s wants, needs, demands, values and/or beliefs clash. This can be passive, direct, or indirect. Though, when conflict is not addressed or well managed, anger often ensues.

So, how can we manage conflict?

What NOT to do:

There are a number of seemingly inconsequential actions that can have a detrimental effect on rapport with an angry job seeker.

  • Keeping a job seeker waiting (if this is inevitable, ask reception to offer them a drink to break up the wait time).
  • Attempting to deal with conflict or anger at reception
  • Closing an interview door
  • Being seated when an angry person is pacing or standing
  • Trying to seat a client too early
  • Using threats of the police or ultimatums
  • Touching an angry job seeker
  • Turning your back or losing eye contact

The Angry Job Seeker

The amygdala is one of the most evolutionarily robust parts of the brain. It runs our fight or flight system, which evolved to keep us alive. As such, when we become angry, it is the amygdala that becomes more active, fuelling our anger, but also reducing our ability to concentrate, listen, and think rationally. These abilities lie, largely, in our frontal lobes.

Unfortunately, in a battle between the amygdala and the frontal lobes, the amygdala has the competitive edge. It therefore takes a great deal of conscious cognitive effort to be able to inhibit our anger inducing thoughts and behaviours and allow for our frontal lobes with their powers of rational thought, to take the lead and calm our over-active amygdala.

By following the L.E.A.P model, you can help facilitate the calming of the amygdala, by helping people to process and talk through their emotions, before coming up with a solution.

Managing your own emotions during conflict

Emotions run high during times of conflict, and it is therefore important to moderate your own response to conflict, so that your emotional brain does not take over. Depending on your style of dealing with conflict, you may need your own self-regulation strategies. Try phrases like, “this isn’t personal” or “conflict is a way of bringing a problem to resolution” or controlled breathing exercises.

When dealing with, or defusing, anger we suggest using the L.E.A.P model:

L: Let them talk and listen

If a job seeker is upset, they may exaggerate or become confused with their facts. This is not the time to disagree with them. Let them talk, uninterrupted, and listen to what they are saying. Effective listening and understanding requires a combination of verbal skills (tone of concern, open-ended questions) and non-verbal skills (nodding, eye contact).

E: Empathise

Avoid using words like “I understand” as it often receives a negative reaction. Paraphrasing, or using statements that show you've been listening, shows empathy. Try phrases like, “Let me get this right, you said ….” or “I can see this would be very frustrating considering….”

A: Active

Isolate the incident by taking the job seeker into an office, or meeting space, as it is harder for an angry job seeker to calm down if they are in front of a group, or audience. Focus on what you can do for the job seeker. Use strong eye contact, a confident, reassuring tone and words like “I can” and “I will.” Avoid using friendly slang like “buddy” and “mate.”

P: Partner

Ask how the job seeker would like you to work together, define your roles and remember, honesty is the best policy. If you don’t know an answer, tell the job seeker you will find out and call them by the end of the day. And make sure you follow up by the deadline.


Back2Work is Australia’s leading health service for jobactive and Disability Employment Services providers and supports job seekers getting back into the workforce. For more information about our on-site programs and services, please contact Back2Work here.