Sunday, September 13, 2020

Dealing with Angry People - Better to Do Right than Be Right

 The nation’s racial upheaval, particularly vis a vis law enforcement, has shown us the value of the skill of de-escalation.   A situation arises and several outcomes are possible, although some are clearly preferred.  The specific technique and approach utilized may determine the end result.  A range of options are often available.  What can make these situations so difficult to unravel afterwards is that an option that may lead to escalation may be deemed to be acceptable, according to the training protocol.  In other words, even the approach taken was acceptable, there may have been a better way.

Obviously, we all endorse training and practices that has the highest probability of bringing calm to a potential combustible situation.   I expect law enforcement – the professionals – to pursue de-escalation as their default mode.  But, the citizenry can and should do its part to de-escalate.   If all parties share the desire for a calm denouement, then it is much more likely that this will be the result.

I realize that my views here may sound naïve and idealistic, particularly as the nation is a cauldron of anger and dispute, but we all have to try.

Even a face mask can light a fuse.

It seems to be that de-escalation has never been more important than it is now.  Who would have imagined that one would need de-escalatory expertise when confronting an individual in a store who is not wearing a mask?  We’ve all had the experience of inadvertently annoying another driver on the road who proceeds to either tailgate within a foot or two of our rear bumper or to display a well-known digital gesture of displeasure? 

Even in my own profession, I am facing a patient and their family who bring anger and frustration into the exam room.  While I may not be responsible for their state of mind, I am responsible in how I deal with it.  Do I want to win the argument or win the peace?

The reason why de-escalation is so critical is because we are suffering from an epidemic of anger.  Our current fractious and divided nation is in part the result of malignant escalation by our leaders, elective officials, interest groups and individuals.  What would life be like here if all of us served as fire extinguishers instead of arsonists?


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