How To Deal With The Unruly Patient

Author(s): 
John Guiliana, DPM

Whether there is a personal issue fueling the anger or lingering resentment over an insurance-related dilemma, this author offers pertinent insights on the roles of empathy, certain phrasing and body language in conflict resolution. He also discusses key steps to take when patient discharge is necessary.

Interpersonal conflicts are one of the toughest challenges for business owners as conflict resolution can be a very elusive skill. However, learning how to deal with interpersonal conflicts caused by “difficult people” will ultimately enhance your business’s productivity and patient satisfaction.

   The “difficult person” is perceived in many different ways. “Difficult people” may be arrogant, demanding, unrealistic or condescending. Sound familiar? Usually, the difficult person is someone who is working from the negative side of his or her personality rather than a conscious desire to be difficult. These folks are often unaware of how they are projecting themselves and how they affect others. Rarely do people make conscious decisions to be difficult.

   In the business world, we are constantly faced with trying to work with others who may challenge our ability to get things done. There is great value to be gained when we take the time to try to understand another’s viewpoint. By changing our attitude toward them and changing our viewpoint about what makes them “difficult,” we can find a wealth of knowledge to improve our own ability to work with people.

Emphasize Empathy And Active Listening

When it comes to dealing with an angry person, one should first address his or her issue and feelings on the subject in order to start having a constructive dialogue. The angrier the person, the more important it is to acknowledge his or her anger through the use of empathy statements and listening responses first before moving on to the issue. Problem solving with angry people often results in wasted time unless they are ready to participate calmly.

   Resolving a conflict often begins and ends with listening. Successful active listening leads to a sense of empathy of the other person’s needs and position. Empathy, or “emotional knowing” of the difficult person’s position, helps break down the barriers that preclude an amicable outcome.

   During a dispute, actively listen for the primary emotions of the person. Anger is usually a secondary emotion. Common primary emotions include confusion, frustration, anxiety, loss of control and self esteem issues. These buried emotions are often revealed if we just let the other person speak. By empathizing and identifying with those feelings, we may then be able to accurately paraphrase the primary emotion back to the person, resulting in a bridge of understanding.

   In a managed care environment, loss of control is often a root cause of anger. As a result, the receptionist’s post is often referred to as “the hot seat” in many practices. Health issues and fear of the unknown lower a person’s threshold for anger, potentially precipitating a conflict. Condescending people are often manifesting self-esteem issues. One must address these various underlying causes before a conflict can diffuse.

Do Not Lose Control

Difficult behavior is designed to affect you emotionally so you will become aggressive or defensive. When we lose our cool and defend ourselves or become aggressive, we actually end up doing what the other person wants us to do. We lose because we enter into an ugly game in which there are no winners. Self-control is critical. This means controlling our own behavior. You are entitled to be angry or upset if you choose but you can learn to control your behavior as well as the way that you express that anger or upset so something good comes from it. Here are some tips to consider.

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