The quick and dirty guide for nurses caught in a conflict


As a young college student working at the local university bar, I encountered many unhappy customers. A few were sober, most were inebriated and some were just downright rude. Unfortunately, my testosterone and ego always got the best of me. The escalating confrontation always culminated into a screaming match of who could scream louder and who could scream the longest. It didn’t matter who was right. It only mattered who won.

My, how things have changed.

I’m a lil’ older now (*cough*cough*–I stress only a lil’ older!). The bar I work in is called a hospital. My customers (both internal and external) come from many walks of life–everyone from patients to patients’ families, friends, coworkers, unit secretaries, allied health care professionals or product representatives, just to name a few.

I still have to deal with escalating confrontations.

I still have no idea who is right or wrong (sometimes).

The difference is how I act and react to these situations. I still have my bravado, my testosterone and my ego with me (shh–don’t tell anyone), but I don’t use them to try to “win.”

I can thank a highly-educated, skilled and seasoned nurse for passing on one of the best pieces of advice I ever received in my first 18 months as a nurse. I’ve since named it the “whisper reflex.”

If you ever want to de-escalate an irate, upset and angered “customer,” use the whisper reflex.

De-escalation is the quickest way to resolve almost all issues of confrontation and conflict. No one can think straight, act rationally or make sound decisions in the heat of anger and uncontrolled emotion.

The next time someone is acting like a blow-hard towards you–regardless of why, what, when, where or who–use the whisper reflex. It’s exactly what the name says.

When it’s your turn to answer or defend your stance, use the lowest volume voice you can muster. You don’t have to change the tone of your voice, just the volume. If you consider screaming to be a level 10, respond to their scream at a level 1. Just loud enough that they can hear you.

I promise you, after a couple moments of confusion and outright disgust, they will figure out that their screaming is getting them nowhere.

While I’m here to tell you it works, it takes a lot of self-control and practice to be the person doing the whispering!

Let me know if you have ever tried this and share your experience if you have!

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3 Responses to The quick and dirty guide for nurses caught in a conflict

  1. Nurse Rene

    What an excellent technique! And the LAST thing that a belligerent person would expect to get as a response. Our first instinct is to yell back, which of course only makes the situation escalate. This is definitely a technique worth learning.

    • Sean Dent

      @Nurse Rene It truly does work – but it takes a lot of will power NOT to scream. :)

  2. Nurse4U

    I’m going to remember this technique and try it when needed. I’m sure it will come in handy someday soon, thanks for the good tips always good to hear what other people try especially when it works!!! Thanks