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Humility, perspective and refraining from hasty, emotional responses can go a long way toward defusing confrontations.
My recent blogs about “finishing school” for radiologists were partly in jest. It’s really not that hard to socially interact in constructive ways. A lot of people just get out of the habit of interacting with others, especially if their work isolates them, or they spend time on (anti)social media.
Many remedies many seem downright basic, a la All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I will simplify it even further by saying that the advice from my previous blogs could prevent most of the antisocial behavior I have seen. The remaining pointers offered in this blog are arguably correlates of the principles I have already recommended: Being generous and avoiding negativity.
(Editor’s note: For previous related blogs, see “Finishing School for Radiologists, Part 2: The Power of Generosity” and “Finishing School for Radiologists: Common Anti-Social Pitfalls to Avoid, Part 1.”)
They can also be summed up as taking care not to press other people’s buttons and making it as difficult as possible for them to press your buttons. It makes sense to focus on that second part as you have a lot more control over it than the first.
The second part is easier said than done. Circumstances can conspire to get your goat, especially if there are others involved who want that to happen (Internet trolls, for instance, and even certain portions of the media). The better they know you, the more adept they will be at pressing your buttons and eliciting an emotional response.
Take action only after your emotions have cooled. Otherwise, the emotions will cloud your judgment. In the heat of the moment, you can say or do things that you would subsequently recognize as obvious mistakes. Such needlessly hasty moves also have a way of escalating things. Someone pressing your buttons to get you angry will likely respond to your anger-driven reaction in a way that gives you opportunity to dig the hole you’re standing in even deeper.
The tricky part is that those emotions are powerful motivators, and it feels urgently right to do something with them. However, your emotional “fight or flight” response might do more harm than good if you are in a contentious meeting, or just trying to hold your own in a bickering Twitter thread. Fighting against that sense of “react NOW!” urgency can be learned, but it takes more than a little practice.
Embrace uncertainty. A podcaster I have previously referenced in this blog talks about mantra-like usage of statements like “I could be wrong.” This approach is valuable in many respects, but I will just mention a couple of reasons here.
First, it helps make you less of a target for fault finding. Trolls, especially (including Dr. Negative), love the “gotcha” of poking holes in something they say you claimed with certainty. Take that easy target away from them. It also demonstrates an awareness that you don’t have all the answers. An exception is if you’re in a leadership position that requires a confident demeanor. You might notice that successful politicians display an “often wrong, never in doubt” persona.
Secondly, you don’t even have to say your “I could be wrong” mantra aloud. Just get in the habit of thinking it, and you will be less emotionally invested in being right. When you do turn out to be incorrect, your embarrassment button or anger button won’t be pushed as easily if one or more negative people take visible joy in calling out your imperfection.
Take no for an answer. Just like anything else, you can be wrong about someone’s response to something you have said. The more you want or expect a particular answer, the more it can push your buttons if you don’t get it. For example, “I thought for sure my boss would see that I deserved that raise.” Also, longer-term readers may recall previous blogs in which I shared the strategic value of using someone’s current “no” to pave the way for a future “yes.”
Expect that anything you say can offend anyone or make them claim this is the case. This gets into the murkier waters of pressing other folks’ buttons. Sometimes it is unavoidable. You can’t know all the things going on in someone else’s mind. It might have nothing to do with you other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Offended individuals may be having a bad day, or you might remind them of someone they don’t like. (I am even told that some people don’t like doctors or radiologists if you can believe that.)
In recent years, some have turned being offended into a full-time occupation. A rad I knew referred to them as “offensitarians.” You never know when you will be accused of saying something harmful, insensitive, or otherwise bad. It can derail your message or an entire interaction, burying whatever point you were trying to make. If you consider yourself a decent person, let alone one who takes pains to be politically correct, getting blindsided by such an accusation can push your buttons as well.
In the name of not pushing anybody else’s buttons, sometimes the best you can do is be ready to go into damage-control mode. That means sincerely apologizing rather than armoring up with defenses and explanations. You can always offer those later when you have assured whoever claimed offense that you meant no harm. If you lead by insisting that you did nothing wrong (however correct that may be), that can make things irreparably worse.
On the other hand, you might find yourself dealing with someone who is clearly uninterested in defusing the situation. This person may be keen on how you knocked a chip off his or her shoulder and use it as an excuse to go on the offensive against you. In such unwinnable circumstances, you don’t owe it to anybody to stand there and be a punching bag. Once it is clear your peacemaking efforts are unwelcome, it is time to end the interaction, or at least table it for another time when you have a more receptive audience.