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December 13, 2021

Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Taking Perspective

One perspective-taking exercise that I went through with the staff was as follows:  I asked them to consider that standing in front of them was a young man in sporting attire who was holding his arm close to his body with one hand clasping his lower forearm. He looks in pain, he looks worried and scared. And then I ask the staff to tell me, what’s he worried about?

I give them a prolonged period of time to think about “what is the man worried about?” 

This exercise, which they may very rarely get a chance to do actually in their work, especially for a prolonged period of time, engendered all kinds of insights about what short, medium, and long term things that the man might be feeling and be worried about at that moment. 

This is an exercise we call perspective taking. 

He could be worried about the pain. He could be worried about the long term effects of the injury. He could be worried about taking time off work. We don’t know if this man is a professional athlete and that this injury will interfere with his plan to compete or his plans to go to a competition. It is possible that he won’t be able to go to work tomorrow of for a long time, because of this injury – what will happen?.

A place of uncertainty.

What effects will this have on his ability to earn, will this have an effect knocking-on into his relationships with his partner or the person he lives with, who depends on him for his part of the rent or the mortgage payment that month? 

It may be that the man has had poor experiences in hospital  – such as experiencing pain or loss , or mistreatment, or that he has felt disrespected before, or that he doesn’t trust doctors or nurses. 

There are all kinds of reasons why this man might have that look of worry on his face. And it is appropriate for staff to take this perspective and to knowledge it, and to slow down as they interact with this man, and to consider what these issues might be, as they ask questions in triage, and as he transforms into “the Broken Arm in Bed Six”.

It will be important for clinical staff to remember – it may be their hundredth fracture of the month, but for him, it is his first time. And that deserves empathy and compassion  as much as it requires the best healthcare money can buy.”

Gerard O’Dea, Director of Training at Dynamis

We acknowledge their perspective. We seek understanding, and we anticipate the person’s needs. 

Dynamis provides a comprehensive conflict management training programme which spans the whole spectrum of encounters in a hospital environment.  In this series of posts, our Director of Training reflects on key ideas in addressing conflict in the hospital. 

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Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Empathy

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Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Like it or Not, Patients Crave Attention

Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Like it or Not, Patients Crave Attention

Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Managing Expectations

Conflict Management in the Emergency Department: Managing Expectations

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Gerard O'Dea is the Director of Training for Dynamis. Training Advisor, Speaker, Author and Expert Witness on Personal Safety, Conflict Management and Physical Interventions, he is the European Advisor for Vistelar Conflict Management, a global programme focussing on the spectrum of human conflict.

Gerard O'Dea

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