This article originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of EMS Magazine.
Have you ever worked with someone whose breath could drop a yak at 20 paces? How can you make your captain quit playing polka music in the day room? Is there anything you can do about your coworker who calls everyone “babe,” even patients who fought in World War I?
For better or worse, EMS is a team sport. A partnership, like any relationship, has its ups and downs. Most EMS providers have strategies for talking about clinical concerns with their coworkers. In this article, we will explore strategies for dealing with nonclinical issues.
When something your partner does or doesn’t do bugs you, there are five basic options for dealing with it:
- Keep your mouth shut and suffer.
- Get away from this person by quitting your service, requesting a transfer or getting him or her moved to another shift.
- Change the way you feel about the situation so it doesn’t bug you anymore.
- Change your partner’s behavior.
- Recruit others to help you change the situation.
No single solution works for all situations. There is a principle in medicine known as “Diagnose before you treat.” When dealing with problem partners, it’s worthwhile to spend a little time thinking the situation through before deciding on a course of action.
Keeping your mouth shut and suffering through sexist jokes, voluminous intestinal gas or chainsaw snoring is an option most people would rather avoid. However, if what bugs you is really a pet peeve of yours, not something that most rational people would have a problem with, then this may be the best option. One paramedic complained that her partner was always waving at people he didn’t know. Even though it bugged her, she realized that almost everyone else thought it was an endearing quality.
Quitting your service or requesting a transfer is often the best option when your safety is at risk. Partners who tailgate, wave at Hell’s Angels bikers with only one finger, or think the bench seat is a receptacle for dirty IV needles probably should be moved to C shift, if they are allowed to work at all.
Changing the way you feel often comes from quiet reflection on the situation. You may realize that by addressing everyone as Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so, your partner intends to convey respect and esteem. Even though it contrasts with your informal style, you learn to appreciate the spirit behind her actions.
Changing a person’s behavior is one of the most difficult, yet potentially rewarding paths you can choose. It takes a skilled diplomat to negotiate transformation in an irritating coworker. Many EMS providers avoid these confrontations at all costs. For them, little problems build up until they become overwhelming. Did you know that the word postal is in the new edition of Webster’s Dictionary?
“If I don’t talk with John about cleaning up after himself around the station, I’ll forever feel like an unpaid maid/dishwasher. If I talk with the captain about John, he’ll probably resent me for not telling him directly. If I approach him honestly and directly, he may get mad, and I may get him to clean up once in a while.” Once you’ve talked yourself into the “change them” option, following this five-step recipe for confrontation will increase your chances of getting the results you crave.
Step 1: Encode the Message
It’s helpful to carefully craft your message before delivering it. This way, you can anticipate adverse reactions and modify what you are going to say. The most important thing about crafting your message is that you need to be clear that this is your problem and that you are enlisting their assistance in solving it. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “You must be nuts! How is it that her garlic, onion, Limburger cheese and stale coffee breath is my problem?” One of the truths about problem-solving is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to solve a problem you don’t own.