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3 Communication Hacks that Decrease Conflict in Healthcare Settings

Conflict and miscommunication are inevitable parts of life, and in healthcare settings, where life-and-death situations are always around the corner, they’re even more amplified.

Although conflict will always exist at work, all it takes is a little creativity to “compromise and optimize,” says Erika del Pozo, MOT, OTR/L, founder of Joy Energy Time, which provides wellness resources for healthcare professionals. Here, del Pozo explains how knowing your personality type and understanding the difference between “compromising and optimizing” can decrease conflict and enhance communication in the workplace.

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Meet the Personality Matrix

According to del Pozo, the key to smoothing things over in the workforce comes down to understanding the personality matrix, which is based on the Five Personality Traits, known as OCEAN:

  • Openness: your level of creativity and the degree to which you’re willing to try new experiences
  • Conscientiousness: the level of care that you take in your life and work, as well as your ability to plan and organize effectively
  • Extroversion: your level of sociability, where you draw your energy from and how you interact with others
  • Agreeableness: your level of willingness to compromise and orientation towards others
  • Neuroticism: your level of emotional reactions, emotional stability and general temperament

Like similar personality insight profiles, you score high, low, or in the middle of each of these traits. All together, your individual matrix mix determines your preference for communication and receiving information. And those preferences play a huge role in how you interact with others at work. 

“Often times, our personality matrix goes unnoticed, which can lead to big-time conflict,” del Pozo says.

You can take a quiz, devised by best-selling author and behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards, to discover your own personality matrix.

Make the Most of the Your Matrix

To understand the matrix in action, think about a hypothetical with two coworkers, the super-conscientious and detail-oriented Eva, and the wings-it-but-still-gets-it done Maxine. They’re both effective, but because of their personality differences, they often clash with each other.

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The key when encountering a situation where two coworkers are at a conflict, says del Pozo, is for both sides to recognize their own personality matrix and to analyze how it differs from others’.

In the case of Eva and Maxine, acknowledging their distinct approaches to conscientiousness could encourage them “compromise and optimize,” del Pozo adds. For example, they might reach a middle ground for communication where Eva leaves out details that aren’t essential and Maxine preps a few bullet points for Eva ahead of time — this is compromise.

On the other hand, “optimizing would involve one of them leaving their comfort zone and taking one for the team for the greater sake of harmony,” del Pozo explains. In both scenarios, though, someone “is adapting to the other person’s matrix, which may be uncomfortable and weird.”

So your quest to understand the other person’s matrix isn’t in vein, you should clarify the root of the conflict before anything else and “remain open and listen,” del Pozo says. “It can be so easy to assume you’re right and plan what you’re going to say next instead of actively listening to their side of the story.”

Learn to Show Appreciation

Much like how individuals have their own, distinct personality matrix, they also have their own appreciation language, del Pozo says. And learning it for challenging coworkers can help you smooth things over.

“Appreciation languages are the same as love languages, but applied to the context of work,” she says. “People just want to be seen, heard and understood … Have you ever heard of people leaving high-paying jobs to serve ice cream in Bermuda because they weren’t being appreciated work? That’s because socio-emotional rewards matter.”

RELATED: 11 Tips to Reduce Conflicts with Fellow Healthcare Workers

Showing small acts of appreciation on a regular basis can have a long-term impact on your relationship. They’re most effective if you take time to learn someone’s appreciation language by observing how they, themselves, show appreciation. You may notice some of the following appreciation languages:

  • Quality time. This person loves grabbing coffee with you before your shift starts, or spending time together outside of work.
  • Gifts. This person loves bringing little treats and gifts for the whole office after a vacation.
  • Acts of service. This person loves helping out and is often taking on tasks like cleaning equipment, making coffee, or organizing the junk cabinet.
  • Words of affirmation. This person likes to hear they’ve done a good job, whether that’s through a text, call, email or even a “thank you” note.

When You Can’t Resolve a Conflict…

You can memorize someone’s personality matrix and show appreciation all day long, but that doesn’t mean you can resolve every single conflict. For cases where you’re not able to leave it, del Pozo says there are three choices: stay at your job and shift your mindset about the conflict; leave the job altogether; or switch departments.

Ultimately, what move you make comes down to the impact the conflict is having on your life, and only you can determine that.

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