“The passions are the same in every conflict, large or small.” Mason Cooley, PhD.
Physicians encounter conflict (both internal and external) no less frequently than others in society. Whether the conflict is with other members of the healthcare team, our patients, our patients’ families, or ourselves, both the conflict itself and our reactions to it have the potential to impact the care we offer our patients. Reflecting on conflicts you have observed (or in which you were engaged) is the first step towards helping you to better respond to these situations in the future.
How we perceive conflict can vary a great deal. Some perceive conflict as both inevitable and beneficial, while others perceive conflict as inherently bad and needing continual resolution. Regardless, conflict in the medical field has been associated with poor retention and reduced quality of care, especially when that conflict is not resolved. Conflict in medicine can be triggered by many sources, including diagnostic uncertainty, personality differences, discordant goals, and unmet needs, among others. In addition, it is important to recognize that conflict can arise between us and our patients, colleagues and/or coworkers.
In this session, we will reflect on our experiences with conflict, consider our reactions to these situations, examine the implications of these reactions for future interactions with patients and colleagues, and work to develop a plan moving forward.
- Think about a time in your medical career when you have experienced interpersonal conflict. This could be with a classmate, fellow resident, coworker, faculty member, a patient, or their family. Take 5 minutes and jot down notes for the following:
- Describe the situation. Set the stage for the context in which the conflict occurred and what led to the conflict itself.
- Examine how you reacted to the conflict.
- How did your reaction affect your interaction with your patient, their family, support staff, colleagues, residents, and/or faculty?
- Is this how you thought you would react in such a situation?
- How have you reacted to similar situations in the past?
- Where did you attribute cause or blame?
- How did your emotional response frame your behaviors?
- Analyze the impact that this conflict and your reaction to it had on the care your patient received, on your relationships at work, etc.
- Describe the insights you gained about yourself through reflecting on this experience and how you think it will impact your practice of medicine in the future.
- Then, in small groups, as you feel comfortable, share your stories and responses.