5 Steps to Managing an Aggressive Customer – TRUCE

Agressive Customer

Dealing with an aggressive customer or work-related violence can be any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances arising out of, or in the course of, their work.

The number of reported incidents of workplace violence is constantly increasing due to the rise in drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and dementia.

Workplace or occupational violence can have significant short and long-term impacts on a worker’s psychological and physical health. These can, in turn, have significant economic and social costs for workers, their families, organisations and the wider community.

The definition of workplace violence covers a broad range of actions and behaviours that create a risk to the health and safety of all workers. Examples include:

  • biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking
  • punching, pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
  • throwing objects
  • verbal threats
  • aggravated assault
  • any form of indecent physical contact
  • threatening someone with a weapon or armed robbery

Safe Work Australia reports identify:

  • 37% of workers report being sworn or yelled at in the workplace
  • 22% of workers report being physically assaulted or threatened by patients or clients
  • 39% of mental disorder workers’ compensation claims are caused by exposure to violence, bullying and harassment
  • 15% of mental stress workers’ compensation claims result from exposure to work-related violence
  • 26% of mental stress workers’ compensation claims made by workers aged 20–27 years were from exposure to work-related violence; and
  • 31% of mental stress workers’ compensation claims made by workers aged under 20 years were from exposure to work-related violence.

If you manage or control a workplace, you need to ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety from workplace violence.

Key risk factors for workplace violence include:

  • working alone, in isolation or in a remote area with the inability to call for assistance
  • working offsite or in the community
  • working in unpredictable environments
  • communicating face-to-face with customers
  • handling cash, drugs and/or valuables
  • providing care to people who are in distress, afraid, ill or incarcerated
  • service methods that cause frustration, resentment or misunderstanding
  • providing care or services for people who have unreasonable expectations of what an organisation and or employee can provide to them
  • enforcement activities.

The best way to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence is to eliminate the risk of exposure to it. If that’s not possible, you need to minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable.

Prevention and management of the aggressive customer require an integrated organisational approach. The nature and location of work, the types of clients, staffing levels and skill mix can all affect the risk of exposure to workplace violence.

Control measures you may consider implementing can include:

  • implementing policies and procedures for working alone
  • implementing policy and procedure for staff to manage aggressive customers
  • recording the movement of staff and checking on their location throughout the shift
  • clearly identifying staff and contractors – staff identification systems
  • implementing site security access systems, e.g. swipe cards and security personnel
  • installing appropriate barriers to separate workers from the public
  • secure storage and handling of high-value items such as medication and cash
  • reducing the number of high-value items carried by workers or managed on-site
  • providing adequate lighting in accordance with CPTED principles
  • providing behaviour management plans, i.e. a plan that documents strategies to assist a person, such as a carer or an educator, in guiding a person with diagnosed behavioural difficulties to self-manage their behaviour
  • conducting workplace risk assessments
  • provide training to staff on responding to aggressive customers

Models of Conflict

Win/ Win – Lose Lose Model

Many people think about the Win-Win / Lose-Lose model when managing conflict. While this model works well when you have time, it doesn’t when the only outcome you want is stopping the behaviour. The model works well in the workplace where you manage conflict between two staff members and have time to identify issues.

Operational Model of Conflict for Managing an Aggressive Customer

A model we have been teaching for years is called TRUCE.  The model has been taught to teachers, local government, and hospitality.

TRUCE is an operational model of managing conflict.

This model was originally developed for NSW Police based on research from the Australian Centre for Police Research.


Engage the person – tell them why you are there

Establish some common ground.

Explain the course of action.


Discuss what you hope to achieve.

Clear and consistent boundaries

Don’t shame the aggressor.

Under Control

Stay cool and focused regardless of hostility.

Separate behaviour from the person

Allow the person to vent.


Continue to talk to the person and avoid contact.

Promote consideration of others

Explain the consequence of poor behaviour.

Promote correct behaviour.

Validate the feelings of the person.

Choose the destination, but be flexible in the path


Constantly review and monitor the outcomes.

Save big guns. Remember the force continuum.


The model is not necessarily linear.

For example, you might start at the topic and identify that a person is heavily affected by drugs and head start to evaluate and determine the best thing to do is to not engage with the person and call the police.


Managing an aggressive customer is very different to responding to an armed offender.

At the end of the interaction, we want the employee and worker to be safe and maintain the relationship with the customer.

Rember TRUCE.

For further information, go to https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/safety-topic/hazards/workplace-violence-and-aggression

For training on Managing Aggressive Customers, please go here https://www.chdpartners.com.au/professional-development/managing-aggressive-customers/

(TRUCE model adapted from Wilson, C. and Braithwaite, H. (1996) Police Officers Behaviour During Interactions with Citizens: What distinguishes the ‘skilled’ from the ‘average’ officer?, Risk Management Study 3, National Police Research Unit, Payneham, Sth Australia.)

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