When interacting directly with patients, honesty is always the best policy, said Dr. Solyar. “Trying to hide or change facts to help in a conflict resolution will not benefit anybody.”
Explore this issue:August 2015
The Importance of Being Open
Catherine Hambley, PhD, is a psychologist and co-founder of the Academy of Brain-Based Leadership, a consulting firm that translates neuroscience into leadership skills and behavioral and organizational improvement. She has worked with physicians since 1991. Her top tip for otolaryngologists about conflict resolution is to be aware of how you are responding to people. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I trying to accomplish with this dialogue? Is my behavior going to be effective in getting what I want?’”
Dr. Hambley recalled working with some physicians who were talking about the technique involved in certain procedures. “One started getting accusatory and critical, and it put the other person in a reactive mode,” she said. They stopped the conversation, and Dr. Hambley asked them to identify their concerns. “It turned out both sides were really concerned about patient outcome and, by talking, they were able to find some common ground. They were able to talk about ensuring the patient’s outcome, and it stopped being a conversation about blame and accusation and became one about best practices.”
As a result, both sides were able to learn something, share concerns, and calm down as each one understood how the other approached the issue.
“Conflict in and of itself is not the problem; it is whether or not we can engage in effective conflict resolution to achieve the best outcome,” said Dr. Hambley. “It’s important to do it in a way so that you are able to be more open, find common ground, ask questions about perspective, and acknowledge the other person’s point of view. Conflict escalates when we hold firm to our position.”
For some physicians, it can be challenging to be open to input. “Doctors are expected to be experts, and a lot of times, it’s contrary to saying ‘Maybe there are some things I don’t know or haven’t considered,’” said Dr. Hambley. “It can be seen as a threat, like, ‘Am I not competent?’” If people are asking, it’s not that a physician is doing something wrong. Those who are more open to learning have less difficulty with conflict.”
It is part of being a human being, not just a physician or a surgeon.
“Conflict resolution is often just being a regular guy, and not being a leader or a surgeon or a boss,” said Dr. Vaughan. “It’s realizing you have a relationship with the individuals around you, whether they are other professionals or family. It’s using some of the skills you have as a family member, child, sibling, parent—things you would do at home to have a happy home. If you don’t have the skills at home, you’ll have five divorces, and if you don’t have them at work, you’ll have five ex-employees.”