Management + Leadership

The role of emotional intelligence in conflict resolution

For many of us, it’s in our nature to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Whether out of the fear of offending someone, hurting their feelings or being humbled by having to admit a mistake, we put those conversations off. But in our roles as health care providers, we can’t avoid conflict. We must be able to have the uncomfortable or unpleasant, but honest, conversation. I’m here today to discuss a kind of conflict that hits close to home: patient-provider conflict.

Though we are all committed to providing the best care that we can for our patients, it is inevitable that we will encounter situations of conflict at some point throughout our careers. It is important to understand how to achieve a positive resolution with minimal escalation. A 2002 study in Contemporary Nurse found a strong link between emotional intelligence and successful conflict resolution, primarily due to increased use of a collaborative approach to seek mutually beneficial solutions. In this case, high emotional intelligence is characterized by increased levels of awareness, understanding and effective management of negative emotions. Though this study primarily focused on nurses within a workplace environment, the findings are easily translatable to our daily patient interactions. Here are some tips on how you can exercise your emotional intelligence to effectively de-escalate and manage conflict.

  • Keep your cool. Situations involving conflict can often become emotionally charged, and these situations can escalate quickly when anger and frustration comes into the picture. Take deep breaths and remain calm. It may be instinctive to apologize immediately for something that you do not understand to avoid further conflict, or even to jump to defend yourself against accusations being thrown your way. However, it’s much more productive to focus on understanding the underlying cause of the anger, rather than responding the anger itself.
  • Listen. Rather than explaining your side of the story or responding based on your perception of the situation first, try taking a step back and take the time to understand the other party’s perspective. More often than not, simple miscommunications or differences in values can easily be identified and addressed in this way.
  • Prioritize relationships. Seek to address the problem, not the person. Think carefully before you speak so that you can communicate your recommendations in an objective way. By focusing on obtaining the facts and defining the problem, mutual respect can be maintained between both parties, decreasing the risk that either party will feel personally attacked.
  • Find common ground. Remind your patient that both of you are committed to finding a mutually beneficial solution in this situation. Seek collaboration and compromise, even if it means setting smaller, attainable goals along the way. Focus on the bigger picture and don’t forget to keep an eye towards a positive outcome.

Wishing everyone a safe and fun Independence Day! 

~ Sharlene Cam, Los Angeles ’18, electronic editor

Sharlene Cam

Sharlene is a third-year dental student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She currently serves as chapter Vice President and as an Electronic Editor on the national ASDA Editorial Board. In her free time, she enjoys graphic design and crafting.

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