Defensive Thinking - Lone Worker Strategies

Whilst we can do much to reduce risks through preparation, communications and teamwork, it is important to develop personal skills and confidence in dealing with difficult interactions and behaviours. This can include conflict and hostility from tenants, clients, customers and people we meet unexpectedly on site, working in the community or at our offices.

Our practical skills for dealing with unpredictable situations include dynamic risk (situation) assessment and 'exit strategies' i.e. A pre prepared excuse to leave a situation and/contact colleagues. The following tips demonstrate exit strategies in different situations:


  • Check the meeting is legitimate and the details are correct and not subject to warning 'flags'
  • Consider a pre-call with some questions that help you prepare and assess risks
  • Ensure colleagues know your plans so they can support and follow up if concerned
  • Check your means of communication are at hand and batteries charged
  • Prepare for the meeting and have all you need at hand to look professional and avoid conflict
  • If you have any concerns consider re-arranging and a 'Plan B' such as them attending the office / having others present

Office based meetings - planned and unexpected arrivals

  • Think about how you position yourself in relation to others and exits
  • Have valid reasons for leaving the room e.g. to speak with a colleague or manager, or to get info from your desk/computer
  • Agree words or signals that indicate to a colleague you would like their support or to 'switch'

Arriving at site/property

  • On approach, scan the area for potential risks and park ready for a clear and quick exit
  • Have a prepared exit strategy when waiting for a lift or entering a stairwell such as pretending you have forgotten something, or you are 'waiting for a colleague'

Doorstep moments

  • Look and listen as you approach an entrance and withdraw if unsure
  • Stand to the side after buzzing the door - this is polite and helps you assess and not be drawn in.
  • If uncomfortable with who answers / is present, have a ready excuse such as getting something from your car, or explain you just wanted to let them know you can't stop now as you have had an urgent call

Inside Premises

  • It is harder to extricate yourself at this stage, so better to follow your instincts and make an excuse at the entrance
  • Use your verbal and non verbal skills to ensure you stay ‘exit side’ and less likely to feel intimidated or blocked in
  • Plan credible excuses e.g. reasons to call the office, move to an open area, or to return to your car.