Drawing Lessons: Problems in Perspective, Dishwashers & Forks II

Tines Upwards (2009) photo:JParadisi
Tines Upwards (2009) photo:JParadisi

      Garrison Keillor says that you don’t really know what you think until you start writing.

       This morning, while the coffee was brewing, I unloaded the dishwasher. Imagine my surprise to see that all of the forks were placed tines upward. 

       I asked my husband about this fork/dishwasher thing. He has an opinion: tines upward. 

      I can live with it. But what if I find tines upward to be unacceptable?

     A hospital I worked for decided to implement nurse governance as a tool for making decisions within nursing units.  The process was painful in the beginning. We would attend meetings facilitated by a representative from Human Resources  with our nurse manager present, and for awhile, some doctors too. For an hour at a time we  would vent our hurt, frustration, anger and distrust towards all of the factors we blamed for making our work difficult. This process went on for several meetings. Most of the time I wanted to bail, because I felt we weren’t making any progress. Because attendance was mandatory, I stayed. 

     Then something happened:  one meeting, the arguing and the yelling stopped. The strong emotions had run their course, and now we were ready to talk calmly to each other. We were able to begin the work of conflict resolution.

      Each of us was asked to make a list of the top five problems we wanted fixed in our unit. The lists were compiled, and an overarching list was posted on a wall in large letters for all to see. This list was the starting point from which we selected the six most important problems by group consensus.  The rest of the list items were saved in a “parking lot”,  meaning that once the first top priority problems were resolved, the rest of the list would be revisited in the next wave.

      Six committees were formed. Participation on a committee was mandatory. We were paid for our time. It was understood that some of the problems were resolvable, and the lifespan of some of the committees was self-limited. Committees dealing with issues like communication, staffing, and education, were longstanding in nature, and members made a time commitment to those.

     Things improved. For me, the most important thing gained from this model of conflict resolution was learning how to talk to my colleagues, our manager, doctors, and administrators in a manner that was honest, respectful, and productive. Is it perfect? Did we create a nursing Utopia? Please, we’re adults here, of course not. But I learned a lot about listening and respecting the perspectives of others, and a way to resolve differences.

     Just in case I change my mind about forks and dishwashers.