Some sort of interpersonal conflict is a guaranteed part of life, no matter who you are. At some point, somebody is going to disagree with you in a way that makes either you or them feel threatened. In most of those instances, reacting in an aggressive manner is unnecessary, and will only serve to destroy what is or could be an otherwise healthy relationship, whether it be with family, friends, colleagues, or even strangers.
The workplace is one of the most common areas for experiencing interpersonal conflict, and certain workplaces can generate higher levels of pressure and interpersonal conflict than others. The EMS environment could definitely be seen as one of those workplaces, because of the life and death nature of the work, as well as the difficult working conditions that come with it. This is particularly obvious in South Africa, where the workloads EMS deal with are enormous.
Let’s look at some examples of the kind of things that will cause friction between EMS staff and their colleagues or clients:
- Conflict between EMS members regarding the best treatment regimen for a specific patient.
- Conflict between ambulance services relating to unhealthy competition between companies.
- Conflict between EMS members and nurses at hospitals due to a misunderstanding of roles and skills between the in-hospital and pre-hospital medical environments.
- Conflict between EMS members and bystanders at scenes such as members of the public, family members, and even other emergency services such as law enforcement, during times of intense stress brought on by a medical emergency.
This sort of conflict clearly impacts not only on the happiness of the individuals involved, but also on the quality of care patients will receive and the overall integrity of the EMS industry. As such, we need to see a renewed focus on resolving interpersonal conflict before bad habits and aggressive tendencies start becoming the norm in our beloved industry – an industry that should be known for its calm focus and kindness.
For some tips on resolving interpersonal conflict, we turned to a highly informative article by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A., about conflict resolution skills. In the article (link below), the authors suggest the following:
- “Listen for what is felt as well as said. When we listen we connect more deeply to our own needs and emotions, and to those of other people. Listening also strengthens us, informs us, and makes it easier for others to hear us when it’s our turn to speak.
- Make conflict resolution the priority rather than winning or “being right.” Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Be respectful of the other person and his or her viewpoint.
- Focus on the present. If you’re holding on to grudges based on past resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the here-and-now to solve the problem.
- Pick your battles. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy. Maybe you don’t want to surrender a parking space if you’ve been circling for 15 minutes, but if there are dozens of empty spots, arguing over a single space isn’t worth it.
- Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for our losses and only adds to our injury by further depleting and draining our lives.
- Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.”