Sometimes in practice, I have to deal with angry patients who shout at me. The cause is usually the cost of new glasses or vision with new glasses is not being as good as expected. Sometimes staff shout at me. I find these conflicts difficult to deal with and sometimes end up shouting myself. Do you have any tips?

In practice, some difficult situations arise where the behaviour of patients and staff can be very difficult to deal with. I recently experienced a patient shouting at me complaining that the price of my glasses ‘was disgusting, a rip-off.’

Over the last few years, I have learned how to deal with these conflicts. It is still difficult.

There is a famous saying:

‘Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

My interpretation of this is that when a person is shouting at us it is better not to react immediately. It would be natural to say something immediately or even shout back. To my mind, this immediate action adds fuel to the fire and results in more shouting by the angry person. In the past when a person shouted, I shouted back, then they shouted again, I shouted again and on it went with anger spiraling upwards.

I now choose to wait before responding. Waiting, in my experience, even for ten seconds before responding helps reduce the fire in the other person. They are often taken by surprise by the silence. The ten-second break gives you a chance to decide what to say and how to say it.

Whatever you decide to say, say it at normal loudness without shouting. Be calm. Don’t say anything that will fuel the other person’s fire. I often start with ‘I’m sorry that we have upset you. Let me see what I can do to help.’

In my experience staying calm helps a lot. The gap between stimulus and response gives me a chance to think. It takes the other person by surprise and gives them a chance to think. They may shout again but again take a ten-second break before responding. In my experience, this behaviour brings the conflict to an end quicker and with less shouting.

This is very hard to do but with practice it is possible. Of course, this is useful in other conflict situations that occur in life outside the practice.

One more thing. If a person saw themselves in a mirror when they were angry they would never be angry again. Anger makes people ugly. Very ugly.


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