GP trainee in Co Leitrim Dr Domhnall Heron describes a new mediation service for frontline healthcare workers regarding issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic
Ours are challenging times. The Covid-19 pandemic has thoroughly altered both our personal and working lives.
A high demand has been placed on our frontline workers. Though the expected surge has not materialised thus far, hospitals are once again at capacity. The uncertainty can also weigh heavily. We may only be at the end of the beginning.
Some have been redeployed to face new challenges in different departments. Others have moved into a completely new role. There is financial uncertainty for private consultants and general practitioners, as previous business models are altered. The emotional and psychological stress of working in a high-risk pandemic environment is not to be underestimated. At home, the constraints of lockdown can create further strain and pressure for healthcare workers, frontline workers and our families.
Shouldering the burden of this period can feel overwhelming for some and may take a heavy toll on personal and workplace relationships. Exhaustion and burnout leave us less resilient for navigating difficult conversations with both colleagues and loved ones. Additional stressors to what we are normally used to may make us more irritable and less tolerant of others, thereby increasing the likelihood of argument and conflict.
There may be difficult conversations with work colleagues as new protocols are agreed upon and as healthcare workers make the best decisions possible, sometimes with limited evidence. Many have been redeployed with their new supervisor from a different specialty or profession. For some, there may be challenges in speaking to family members and those they live with, amidst heightened concern from close contacts that they too may be at risk. Existing tensions with a neighbour may have also recently bubbled to the surface.
Asking for some support to resolve or patch things up before they get worse may prove very helpful. A group of considerate Irish-registered mediators, called Covid-19 Mediators, have collaborated to offer their services to healthcare and frontline workers free of charge.
Typically, when one thinks of a mediator, an image of a person sitting between two sides comes immediately to mind. However, mediation offers much more than this. Covid-19 Mediators’ power and gift to healthcare and frontline workers is that they can coach a single party on how to approach a person they are having an issue with in a non-judgemental way. A mediator can offer conflict coaching and advice on how to approach difficult conversations. They can act in the role of a mentor, foster assertiveness, and ameliorate fear, frustration and anger. They can coach an individual to find the inner resolve to approach a difficult conversation and teach them the language necessary to carry it out in a calm, meaningful way.
For some, our healthcare system feels a challenging arena to open difficult conversations. Covid-19 Mediators can help raise a difficult issue with colleagues or seniors in a way that minimises the risk of antagonism, while optimising the chances that the other person will listen. They can help people cope with and navigate through an already strained relationship so that it doesn’t cause sleepless nights. In addition to helping with workplace relationships, Covid-19 Mediators can aid with home and private relationships too. Sometimes those we love dearest become those we struggle most to talk to about certain difficulties.
Traditionally, mediation has been of immense value in succession planning, particularly around the passing of a farm from one generation to the next, and also in the arena of marital difficulties. In addition to coaching an individual, a mediator may be engaged to assist two or more disputing parties in resolving a dispute in a collaborative and consensual manner. A mediated conversation can iron-out some tricky issues or misunderstandings and get the relationship back on track.
In any conversation, if we feel heard, then we feel like we matter and are more likely to be of a disposition towards a solution rather than towards a destructive outcome like conflict or avoidance.
Difficult conversations are an intrinsic part of life. Avoided, the situation may fester and become more troublesome. However, if acknowledged and explored in a non-judgmental way, it can be a catalyst for growth in a relationship.
All Covid-19 Mediators are members of the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland.