May 2020 President's Corner

May 2020 President's Corner

Should I Push Back or Pull Back? Managing Conflict in a Pandemic

Recent changes have meant more time at home and a lot more time online. Couple this with all the other things going on in our lives and it’s very easy to get stressed and agitated. Unlike when this happens in person, however, we’re now constantly virtually connected to our coworkers, peers, friends, and family so it can be harder to “step away” and find some space when tensions run high.

Last week, I was emailing back and forth with someone and was becoming more and more frustrated. What typically would have taken much of the day as we both emailed between patients and other responsibilities had been condensed into several back and forth emails within an hour. I simply didn’t understand how they didn’t “get” what I was saying! As I started to type a sarcastic response to their most recent email, I, fortunately, recognized  that likely wasn’t the next step to a productive solution. Luckily, I was able to step away from my computer for a moment and pull up my favorite mindfulness app (MyLife Meditation is available for Apple or Android for anyone that’s interested). The sentiment at the center of the session was to remember that whoever I was frustrated by wanted to be happy and avoid suffering just like I did. While that is a basic idea, it was a good reminder to encourage me to pull back and engage from a place of common ground.

Similar reflections have been helpful in the past as well. Whether it’s my husband walking away from the dinner table and leaving his plate right there for someone else (me) to pick up or a classmate asking “one last question” when I desperately need to leave on time, it’s good to remember that those around us do not have malicious intent. They are simply doing what makes sense to them and don’t yet understand how it impacts us. With all of this in mind, some tips on deciding when and how to engage when conflict arises came through my inbox recently, and I found them to be exactly what I needed right now.

If you’re in a similar spot, check out these tips from Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore (or her whole article) and if you have any of your own, please email them to me! Now more than ever is a great time to learn from one another and I’ve been so lucky to be virtually surrounded by all of you folks to do just that.

First, perform a self assessment.

  • How do I manage conflict?
  • Are there ways I could express myself more clearly in conflict?
  • Am I carrying around unresolved anger or in danger of blowing up?

When conflict arises, ask yourself:

  • In this particular situation, should I push back or should I pull back?
  • What will I gain? What will I lose?
  • If I decide to push back, what’s the most effective way to do so?

If you decide to push back:

  • State your observation of the problematic behavior
  • Describe how it makes you feel
  • Make your needs clear and request what you want

As always, stay well and thank you for a year full of unexpected surprises!

J. Riley DeBacker
SAA President