Are you a thinker or a feeler? How to adapt your communication style to other personality types.
Dear Pharmacy Doctor:
I work the swing shift at a large retail pharmacy chain store. I have the unfortunate pleasure of working with a technician who is extremely sensitive. When I raise my voice slightly, the scenario is always the same. She will do the work, come back to her station, hang her head low and start to cry softly to herself. I don’t want to console her each and every time. I have too much to do and I think she’s being extremely emotional which is inappropriate at work. To top it all off, she will give me the cold shoulder for the rest of the shift. She’s difficult to work with and the position is even more difficult to fill. No one really wants to work during this time so I am stuck with her. I’m tired of dealing with this on a regular basis. Management doesn’t think it’s an issue. They want me to “tone it” down with her but I have not done anything wrong! I just want to get the scripts in and out and go home. What should I do?
Dear Frustrated Pharmacist:
Remember the saying, “It takes two to tango?” It takes two people to have an argument. To the technician, your behavior offended her. You already admitted that you raised your voice at her. How did you raise your voice slightly? The bottom line is that you raised your voice. Then she perceived you as belligerent and demanding. Based on her perception, she reacted emotionally which apparently angered you further. The vicious cycle did not resolve properly. It ended when the shift ended―how frustrating.
The good news is that this type of conflict can be fixed. As her supervisor, you have to accept the fact that you are her manager and need to act accordingly. You cannot refuse to address the problem. In McGrath’s Difficult Personalities (2010), there are two different styles of decision-making. There are “thinkers” who use logic and rationale in making decisions; you fit in this category the best. Your technician is a “feeler” who uses emotions and feelings to make choices. “Thinkers” do and say things to get work done. They also tend to hurt people’s feelings frequently. As a “feeler," the technician may feel that you are treating her unfairly. But you treat others the same, so how can that be? Based on her perception, the misunderstanding remains the truth in her mind until you confront it.
If you know that your co-worker is a “feeler," then change the way you communicate. Start the message with a pleasant tone and incorporate the words of “we” to encourage teamwork. Instead of “Grab the bottle of amoxicillin and reconstitute it now," say “The kid with the pneumonia will be here soon. When should we get her antibiotic ready? The medication needs to be reconstituted and we haven’t run the script yet. Can we move the prescription ahead of the others?” Your co-worker is more likely to respond and offer her help or make recommendations. In fact, you are allowing her to be a team player. Without the tears and drama, the job is quickly done and the team is finally working together.
With simple changes such as a smiling, using the word “please," asking her instead of shouting commands, and thanking her, you might find that working with her isn’t as terrible as you thought. However, next time there is a conflict and she begins to weep, take the time to excuse her outside for a 5-minute breather. Take care of urgent matters like STAT orders, incoming phone calls or patients waiting for a consultation. When the pharmacy has settled down, take 15 minutes to sit down your co-worker and talk with her. You don’t need a psychology degree to figure out that she might have either a 1) wrong perception of your behavior or 2) wrong perception of YOU or 3) a personal issue bothering her.
Start with a compliment and then state the problem. You can say, “You are doing a good job answering phone calls and taking patient’s information down. Lately, I noticed that you seem stressed. If a friendly ear is what you need, then I’ll listen. Is there something you want to talk about?” In intense situations when the co-worker clearly needs to vent, it is acceptable for you to listen. Venting for many people is a solution by itself. It helps them hear their words, emotions, and thoughts. Afterward, they may have come to a resolution on their own or with encouragement. If the situation seems a bit “out of your league," then simply state that you cannot offer legal advice or therapy but they are still welcome to talk. Refer them to your company’s human resources department. Most companies offer anonymous hotlines for employees in need of help. After the conversation commend your co-worker for opening up and offer hopes that things will get better. Say to your co-worker, “So that we can work together and have the pharmacy run smoothly, let us try to be more professional. How do you feel about that?” Using the term “we” in conversations tends to take the pressure off the listener. She will not feel blamed or punished. She also will not feel alone in her despondent state.
McGrath offers one more insight: learn to appreciate aspects of a “feeler”. Because the style is different, they may see things that you do not. In a retail setting, a “feeler” co-worker will see a confused customer in the birth control aisle and alert you to provide a private consultation for them. A “feeler” will see an 80-year old lady buying pain medications for their arthritis and ask if they want regular lids instead of child-proof lids on their bottles. A “feeler” will hear a Spanish-speaking patient with broken English and order all patient information to be printed in Spanish. Would you have thought to do any of that? If you would, then perhaps you have learned to be a thinker and a feeler.
McGrath H, Edwards, H. (2010) Difficult Personalities: A Practical Guide to Managing the Hurtful Behavior of Others (and Maybe Your Own). New York, NY: Experiment Publishing.
About the Author
Dr. Karine Wong has a 10 year history of working in hospital management and 2 years as a hospital pharmacist and outpatient pharmacist. She recently published a children's book called Don't Sit On Her.
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