Conflict Resolution at the Office

Last week, a doctor in charge of my father’s hospital care refused to call for a specialist to join the team. During our brief interaction, the doctor was also rude, dismissive and patronizing. I think he had a fight with his wife that morning.

I needed a specialist brought in and this doctor, who we’ll call Dr. A, or as I liked to refer to him, The Big A, resisted. I did what I needed to do, going up the chain of command to have the other doctor brought on the team. Eventually, the issue was resolved. But my dissatisfaction with the care, wasn’t.

I consulted with Joanne, a friend of mine who was formerly Chief Medical Officer of a hospital system on the East Coast. I explained the situation and described a dozen more quality care/customer satisfaction issues that arose during my father’s stay. She listened intently and responded, “Wait a couple weeks and write a letter to the CEO and Chief Medical Officer.

She said when she received angry complaints from family members of patients; she realized the complainer was in emotional turmoil, a state enhanced by having a sick relative. However, Joanne said, when she received a complaint from someone who had been affected by treatment weeks or months before, she knew the dissatisfaction wasn’t going away. Her response had to be relatively more significant.

You’ve heard before to wait 24 hours before responding to an infuriating email …to sleep on it, if a colleague makes you so mad you could stick a gel pen in his eyes. The advice clearly prompts professionals to take emotionality out of discussions and replace it with rationality. But looking at conflict resolution from Joanne’s perspective, that of someone receiving the grievance, we can also see that the impact of our complaint gains more weight if it is somewhat removed from the initial incident. Clearly you don’t want to wait so long that the offense continues to recur, but a reasonable amount of time will add credence to your case.

Interesting thoughts from Joanne. Not surprisingly, she’s the same hospital executive who met with an angry doctor once who ranted: “How can you sit there so composed, when I’m furious!” That, clearly, was the point.