Responding to Anger

Defuse Conflicts:

As a clinician who works with serious illness, running into conflict is inevitable. The pivot point is how you respond. If you habitually withdraw, you’re not giving your best. If you feel you’ve got to win every time, you’re creating resentment. Try our map instead.

We don’t think you need to resolve every conflict. But you do need to notice when conflict is starting to happen. Are you thinking the other person is clueless? Are you getting irritated? Does the conversation feel like it’s going in circles? These are all clues that the other person doesn’t agree. 

When you realize that a conflict is emerging, what helps the most? Taking a moment to step back. Just when you want to go in for the kill—that’s the time you most need to step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, ‘what’s going on?’ 

Our talking map for approaching conflict, originally published in JAMA, gives you concrete steps for noticing conflict, and creating a productive conversation. In our view, defusing conflict is perhaps more useful the resolving it. We can’t always be one big happy family. But we can find ways to talk about what’s important to us, and what’s at stake for the patient.