Abbe Meehan, TEC Resource Center. Photo courtesy of TEC Resource Center.

Abbe Meehan, TEC Resource Center. Photo courtesy of TEC Resource Center.

By Jenny Lower

Dealing with difficult people is an unfortunate but inevitable component of the biomedical profession. Learning to communicate with these individuals constructively cannot only alleviate undue stress, but help ensure that the reputation of your department or company remains strong among the people you serve. During two related sessions at AAMI on Sunday, Abbe Meehan of TEC Resource Center provided steps for navigating conflict without compromising customer service and while maintaining appropriate assertiveness.

“Best Practices for Handling Confrontational Customers and Co-Workers” addressed tips for diffusing anger when equipment or service has gone awry. According to Meehan, it’s key to avoid engaging in an angry or aggressive way and to offer a concrete action plan to address the problem. But how you communicate your message is just as important as its content.

To provide excellent customer service, Meehan says your response should include the 4 A’s:

  • Acknowledge. Begin by restating the person’s comments in your own words. You’ll ensure that you accurately understand the issue, while reassuring the customer that his concerns are truly being heard.
  • Apologize. Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean admitting your own or the department’s guilt, but it shows the other person you feel compassion for her situation and frustration.
  • Act. Follow up these words with steps to improve the situtation. This is what biomeds do best!
  • Appreciate. Thank the other person for raising the issue with you and making you aware of how you could help fix the problem.

At the same time, working effectively with colleagues also means learning to draw boundaries when appropriate. In “Improving Communication Through Effective Listening and Assertiveness,” Meehan outlined the importance of assertiveness: Without it, we may avoid a problem, inadvertently escalating it or giving up our rights. Assertion doesn’t require aggression or nastiness. Instead, it entails direct communication that maintains self-respect without trampling the rights of others.

“I feel” statements are a particularly powerful means of expressing assertiveness, Meehan says, because it’s difficult to argue with how another person feels. An ideal statement will include three parts:

  • A nonjudgmental, brief description of the behavior you want to see changed
  • A statement of how you feel
  • An example of how the other person’s behavior affects you

One attendee expressed frustration over being repeatedly solicited for her advice, only to find it ignored. A suitable response might be, “When you ask for my recommendations on new equipment purchases but then don’t use them, I feel frustrated because I put a lot of time and research into them.”

In all cases, Meehan advises, keep your cool, stay focused, and remember that you are representing not only yourself, but your company or department.

Jenny Lower is the associate editor for 24×7. She can be reached at [email protected]