Best Practice Management
5 Steps to Preventing Heated Arguments in Your Office

Someone once told me that two people engaged in a verbal argument is no different than them throwing garbage at each other. Nothing gets accomplished except a messy escalation of anger. I guess that’s where the term “trash talk” came from. Arguing isn’t communication; it’s just noise, so in the interest of taking potentially argumentative communications in a more productive direction (and for your own sanity), here are a couple workable strategies that will inspire you to be the bigger person and stop the noise in its tracks.

  • Take a step back and make an effort to understand an opposing point of view. It is common to hear one person make his/her argument, only to be invalidated with that dismissive “yes, BUT…” in return. Here’s a thought. Actually listen to their perspective instead of thinking what to say next to convince them otherwise. It was in my psychology class that I learned an exercise that I use even today. Make the point that supports your beliefs; then argue on behalf of the very beliefs you oppose. This approach is not always easy or intended to change your opinions or beliefs, but it does allow you to open your mind to circumstances you never considered. The added perspective helps to rein in the anger and makes you less narrow-minded. That’s not a bad thing.
  • Reduce the anger factor using “mirroring” and voice control. If it is true that conflict is 10% due to difference of opinion and 90% to a wrong tone of voice, then mirroring can play an important role in softening a potential thunderous verbal exchange between you and the other person. By mirroring, I mean you can actually regulate someone’s “out of control” attitude, tone or posture by matching theirs, then slowly adjusting it to a more acceptable level. I’ve seen it work with (frightened, overly-energetic or angry) patients all the time. More recently, with my daughter, having just experienced her first car accident. Nothing serious, a fender bender. After the impact, she and the other driver got out of their cars. She stormed out, temper flaring…cursing at him for following her too closely, not paying attention and hitting her brand new, 8-week-old car. The driver who hit her, on the other hand, emerged using a quieted voice, which she later admitted, calmed her down considerably; allowing a peaceful exchange of information between them. Same is true in your practice. You may walk into your treatment room all enthusiastic; happy, with an upbeat manner of speaking only to find a patient with a low energy whine and reserved demeanor. Yikes! You would do well to lower your volume, meet their tone and gradually elevate it to a more suitable level. In time, they will adjust their attitude to yours.
  • Don’t take things personally. Easy to say, sometimes hard to do. While human nature may cause us to react by taking hurtful comments during an argument personally, we need to remember that these are reflective of just one person’s opinions. Instead of feeling directly targeted, we should learn to take negative insults with a grain of salt because the truth is, it is usually not about YOU. They may sound personal and they may feel personal, but more than likely, they are merely an indicator of some underlying or root problem troubling the antagonist. Maybe they just received a speeding ticket or they are caring for an ailing family member. I recall a patient fuming over what she felt was an outrageous bill received from our office. The reality was, hospice had come in that morning for her husband! It wasn’t us she was angered with. She was an emotional ticking time bomb and the bill was merely the mechanism that set her off. Compassion is the answer here.
  • Don’t play the blame game. An unsubstantiated accusation such as “It’s your fault or “look what you’ve done” is basically verbal abuse which only serves to intensify an argument. So, why go there? Find another game to play. I can think of plenty. Ker Plunk, Monopoly, Apples to Apples, Clue. For starters, any one of these will work.
  • Don’t get sucked in with a chronically argumentative individual. Some people enjoy starting, promoting, and/or participating in arguments. In fact, they view them as a challenge and seek adversaries, every day, with anyone. Keep in mind that you will likely NEVER move these people off their position. They have had YEARS of practice and are award-winning deniers, contrarians, and fact frauds. By comparison, you are only a beginner. Since it takes two to tango, the best advice here is do not engage. In fact, it is said that the stronger point is actually made by saying nothing at all and if that’s true, then silence truly IS golden.