Lately, there is a lot of talk, but not a lot of communication. There is a great deal of opinion-sharing, with very little discussion and collaboration. Raised voices, heightened stress. So much propaganda with so little valuable information. Add vaccine and mask mandates, and you’ve got a pressure cooker waiting to blow. It seems the world has become angry and more agitated than ever.
Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 10 adults reported anxiety and associated symptoms. Enter Covid-19 with its weekly doses of unpredictability and uncertainty. The pandemic has dealt us a generous serving of anxiety; and thus mental distress has risen. According to a report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, there has been an increase in anxiety disorders and depression from 36.4% to 41.5%. Suicide rates, sleep depravity, and trauma have increased due to loss of income, isolation, and lost loved ones. We are still trying to process the “new normal”. In fact, we’ve been grappling to comprehend it for nearly two years. These overwhelming changes have affected each of us.
History has proven the lasting effects of mental distress outlast the disaster itself. With stress and tension running high, anxiety and anger are bound to make their way into the workplace. Conflict is a waste of time; unproductive, uncomfortable, and unpleasant at best. When conflict occurs within the medical sector, it decreases productivity and disrupts patient care.
Stress and anxiety are not exclusive to employees and coworkers. Doctors and clinicians recount stories of patients imposing intrusive questions, defying Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and violating social norms. If you are not equipped to respond to these inflammatory infractions against civility and politeness, conflict may erupt.
They say conflict is inevitable; some would even claim it’s unavoidable. If managed effectively, there is no need for things to end poorly. The first rule of thumb is de-escalation. This involves allowing space for the parties involved to gain control of themselves. In addition, it allows you, the manager, the ability to gather the facts about what occurred. Next, listen beyond the emotion to capture the true and relevant details. Speak with each party validating their opinions, yet never taking sides.
For conflict between team members, it is important to sit down with both parties, acting as a mediator, and encouraging productive conversation between the two. Finally, it is important to evaluate the situation for learning opportunities. Was the conflict due to a failure on your part? Perhaps this should initiate a new protocol to eliminate future confusion.
Occasionally patients may challenge our procedures, processes, or personalities. As previously stated, loss, fear, and mental health issues may lead to difficult behaviors. While people may become aggressive and confrontational to a variety of things, recent changes brought about by the Covid pandemic may agitate otherwise acquiescent individuals. Covid-enforced mandates, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, waiting protocols, political stances on vaccinations, and the overall Covid-induced climate, could potentially escalate inflammatory behavior.
Familiarizing yourself with the signs of behavior escalation may help mitigate conflict and de-escalate aggressive behavior. This may include:
Threats, verbal or otherwise
Abusive or violent language
Raised or rapid speech
Violating personal space
To protect yourself, your business, and your professional reputation, it is a good rule of thumb to assume every interaction is being recorded. This will motivate you to be mindful of your responses and reactions in every situation.
Remember, when conflicts arise, you always have a choice. The choices: escalate, de-escalate, or walk away. Regardless of the circumstances, you are in control of, whether you react or not. Bear in mind your words and actions hold weight. Words can escalate or de-escalate a situation. Choose wisely. The greatest decision is to disengage, and remove yourself from the situation. Because it’s always better to raise your impact, and not your voice.
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.