Monday, May 9, 2011

Tips on Dealing with Difficult Colleagues

Updated 3/2017-- all links (except to my own posts) removed as many no longer active. 

Recently I attended a CME course entitled “Dealing with Difficult Colleagues.”  It was part of my medical malpractice company’s risk management series to teach physicians/nurses how to lessen our risk of being sued. 
This lecture was given by Linda Worley, MD who is a psychiatry professor at UAMS.  She is a good speaker, easy to understand, engages the crowd, and knows her subject. 
My only complaint would be it focused only the “angry” or “frustrated” physicians who exhibit unprofessional behavior and did not include the ones whom you suspect might be difficult due to impairment (illness, drugs, alcohol). 
Difficult colleagues can impact a team (in office, OR, or hospital) by creating low morale, high staff turnover, inefficiency, decreased patient satisfaction, increased risk for poor patient outcomes, and increased risk of litigation.
Here are some of the A-B-C-D strategies given for handling “horizontal” hostility (or hostility handed from one person to another to the next in the team):

Acute Awareness
  • Recognize verbal and non-verbal behaviors
  • Do not ignore and let them grow
  • Remember, they are often driven by distress
Be a leader
  • Set a good example
  • Refuse to engage in negativity
Communicate assertively
  • Acknowledge conflict
  • Respect others’ views
  • Move to a private area
Dedicate yourself to making positive difference in the workplace
  • Don’t participate in gossip, infighting or backstabbing
  • Make daily deposits into the emotional bank accounts of others

When assertive communication is used in dealing with the difficult colleague both parties will feel they matter.  You should include “I” statements so the difficult colleague doesn’t feel attacked.  You should describe the situation/needs objectively.  It is always a good thing to give a genuine POSITIVE statement about the other person.  Confront your difficult colleague with honesty and compassion.
It is helpful for an office, clinic, or hospital to have a defined Code of Conduct as this sets up expectations and clearly defines appropriate behavior.  It also facilitates an objective discussion as it can be referred to as needed.

The following article was included in our information:
Our Fallen Peers: A Mandate for Change; Linda L. M. Worley, M.D.;  Acad Psychiatry 32:8-12, January-February 2008
doi: 10.1176/appi.ap.32.1.8


Dickies uniforms said...

There are times that annoying and difficult colleagues are inevitable to have especially in big companies/offices/hospitals. It is good to accept that there are indeed people who are difficult to deal with, and what we must do is to not let their negativity spread unto us. In the end, we will always be the loser, eh. Your tips are actually helpful, and I guess an understanding heart is one of the biggest solution to this problem. In fact, all of us sometimes happened to be a difficult person, eh. All we have to do is to have a little bit of understanding. :)

SeaSpray said...

Good post.

I know every profession can have their tyrants, but I've seen and heard of unbelievable actions by physicians -surgeons actually.

I wonder it the high stress or their own personal backgrounds, i.e. hx of anger in family ..that cause it. And I wonder ...does residency bring that out in some? yet then why not all physicians? I know of a doc that threw a chair in the OR and was suspended for a year. Yet ...he was one of the *BEST* surgeons and if you needed his specialty would've wanted him as your doc.

Even tho this post is about medical colleagues, I think the principles could also be applied in other working relationships. People can be difficult at times ..regardless of employment level.

I have always been one to absorb the bad behavior and not confront ..not usually ..but I am realizing it is important to speak up when appropriate.