Physicians report increased anxiety among patients, who cite the political climate as a major source of distress. “Our country is divided,” we often hear. Preferring not to consider others’ opinions, we remain in the echo chambers of shows that feature only our views. While few enjoy the tachycardia, tight muscles, and flushing that accompany confrontation, another reason we avoid potentially antagonistic conversations is that we don’t have the skills. We’re afraid to share our opinions, lest others become angry and say hurtful things or we direct those damaging outbursts toward others. This simple, three step process has the potential to open up productive dialogue and heal the divide we are feeling.
When we feel a confrontation coming, the first step is to recognize our emotion. Is it anger? Frustration? Fear? Sadness? Exposed to difficult feelings throughout training, physicians learn to ignore them as a defense against feeling overwhelmed and being unable to act appropriately. With practice, we can become adept at understanding our emotional state. We feel a strong emotion when an issue we care about is at stake, so the second step is to identify the issue. If we’re cut off during a discussion, are we angry because we feel disrespected, because it’s important to hear all viewpoints, or because the information we’re sharing may prevent something untoward from happening? Once we understand the issue, we can speak calmly and directly about that.
Let’s say you are assigned a different MA from the float pool each day of your assistant’s vacation. You are frustrated explaining your protocols to a new person every morning; any experience she gains that day is lost when she doesn’t return. You have run an hour late each day, lab results have slipped through the cracks, and you are worried that a serious issue might occur. You feel disrespected because another colleague was assigned one person for the entire duration of her assistant’s vacation. You feel your jaw clench and your fists tighten as another new MA walks into your office in the morning. You want to explode.
Instead, you recognize you are angry. The issues are patient safety, the efficiency of your practice, and the unfairness and disrespect you perceive. With that understanding, you call the administrator and say, “I’m unhappy I’ve been assigned a new assistant each day. Things have slipped through the cracks and I’m worried there may be a serious patient safety issue if this continues. In addition, the situation is unfair and disrespectful to me, as my colleague was assigned the same MA for the entire duration of her assistant’s vacation. I request that I be given the same respect and that the MA in my office today remain with me for the duration of the week.”
Using this simple 3-step approach can help us speak plainly and powerfully without risk of damaging relationships, and greater understanding between people can occur. Only then can we heal the divide we are experiencing.