Maintain the safety of people involved in typical emergencies, including children, older people and disabled peopleAs you may have realised by now, the first general rule of maintaining the safety of other people in emergency situations involves keeping calm.

Another way of saying this is, “don’t panic”! However, this observation leads us neatly to one of the most important guidelines in maintaining the safety of other people. That is, as a general rule of thumb, it is often better to focus on ‘to-do’ instructions rather than what ‘not-to-do’. In other words it is better to say, ‘keep calm’ than ‘don’t panic’.

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There is much research that shows that being told what not to do takes longer to process than what to actually do. Although it is not really known why this is the case, it is generally thought that giving a negatively stated instruction makes the listener focus on the wrong word. Thus, in our example, the listener has to first focus on the word “panic” which is very much what not to do. In contrast, the word “calm” is much easier to process and in an emergency, time is of the essence. Again, as another example, “walk please” or “please walk” is a much more efficient instruction than “don’t run!”Indeed, it is also worth observing that the negatively stated instruction carries with it a sense of panic. In an emergency it is always better to downplay this sense of panic to others in order to defuse the state of chaos and disorder.

It follows from this guide, that all instructions should be both clearly stated, direct and ‘what to-do’ instructions (e.g., “you do x, y and z”). As we have already noted open lines of communication assist everyone involved in emergency settings.

Therefore, it is also worth noting how important body signs, gestures and postures can be in assisting communication:A simple fingertip to the mouth conveys the sense that someone has to listen to youA smile communicates warmth, reassurance and empathyEye contact communicates a sense of care (whereas wearing sunglasses or looking away communicates disinterest or not caring)A lengthened posture while placing yourself in the middle of the setting communicates that you are in (and not out of) control.In other words there are a host of body signs, gestures and postures that may assist your communication and help maintain others safety. As the old saying goes “a picture paints a thousand words.”Communicating with people with different abilities. The final point that it is essential to be aware of is communicating with people with different abilities to both process information or act in the manner you might like. People with these abilities include children, vulnerable or ageing adults.

In such cases, the need to communicate effectively is even greater. However, it is important to bear in mind that children, older people and disabled people are all still people. It is also worth noting that the need to communicate effectively is ever-present, no matter who you are communicating with. Fitness professionals with limited experience (for whatever reason) of interacting with children, older people or disabled people may be forgiven for thinking that these people are special cases who need to be treated differently.

In a sense, this assumption is correct and so there might be a tendency for fitness professionals to judge these people by their own standards. However it is also important to bear in mind they (even the term ‘they’ is problematic) are people with different characteristics and so the same rules of respect, empathy, consideration and care apply. This may mean applying greater time, physical help, considering mobility requirements, using kinder tones, making non-judgments, accepting any feedback or paying greater attention to those persons needs. But these are likely the behaviours the diligent fitness professional would do anyway.

Displaying respect means deliberately trying to not patronise, demean or belittle the person(s) involved. But again, this is how fitness professionals should act, so remember the key point: children, vulnerable or ageing people are precisely that; people.


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