This communications case study examines the conflict between a busy pharmacist receptionist and a patient inquiring on the status of his prescription. In the dialogue, the client is attempting to determine when his prescription will be ready, yet the receptionist is occupied with other responsibilities and informs the client that she does not have an estimate. The communication of the receptionist is problematic because she is abrupt and unwilling to resolve the customer’s problem. This analysis will apply the principles of a conflict management strategy to assess how the receptionist could.
The response of the receptionist to the customer demonstrates the conflict management strategy of competition. The strategy of competition is where one party attempts to convince the other party of their position (Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor 371). Several elements of the text support this framework for describing the receptionist’s behaviors. First, when the customer explains that he has been waiting, the receptionist informs him that the pharmacy is busy. Through this gesture, the receptionist presents the position that there are more important priorities that the pharmacy must address. Second, when the customer explains that he must inform his employers when he can expect to return to work, the receptionist continues to assert that she cannot estimate the time while scolding the customer for filling the prescription during the busiest time of the day. The receptionist is competing with the customer by asserting that the high volume of business outweighs the customer’s individual concerns.
The Gibb’s Defensive Climate Behaviors exhibited in the script include 1) evaluation and 2) neutrality. While evaluation involves shifting the blame to the other person, neutrality involves disengaging from the conversation (Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor 384). The receptionist exhibits evaluation at the end of the script when she directly tells the customer he is partially at fault for attempting to fill a prescription during the busiest time period. Second, the receptionist demonstrates neutrality throughout the script by immediately pointing out the pharmacy is busy and by immediately rebutting that she is not the pharmacist and cannot estimate the waiting period. The receptionist refrains from engagement by continuing to advocate her position without considering the customer’s needs. Defensive behaviors are defined as behaviors that stem from the need to protect oneself from a threat (Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor 384). The script indicates that the receptionist was likely threatened by the high volume of customers, and thus she shifted blame to the customer and disengaged with the client in response to this threat.
The two supportive behaviors that can be adopted to improve the dialogue are 1) description, and 2) empathy. According to Gib’s framework, description involves addressing the perspectives of others instead of redirecting blame and empathy involves recognizing the feelings of others (Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor 384). By using description, the receptionist could improve her communication by providing more details on the wait time the customer could expect and the steps she needs to take before she could provide him with a time estimate. Through empathy and organizational coaching, the receptionist could acknowledge the customer’s situation and apologize for the wait time. The client demonstrated these supportive behaviors by describing why his work circumstances required him to determine when his prescription would be ready and affirming that he understood the pharmacy was busy. However, the customer could reduce the receptionist’s stress by immediately describing his situation and expressing empathy.
Based on this analysis the following alternative script is recommended:
Customer: “Hello, I apologize if you are busy at the moment. I have been waiting for an hour to pick up my prescription. I am on break at work, and I need to let my work know when I can return. Could you give me an estimate so I can tell my boss? I know you are busy, but I would really appreciate it.”
Front Desk Receptionist: “I am sorry you had to wait for so long. This is our busiest period, and the pharmacist is very busy at the moment. Please give me a moment to take these incoming calls and then I will ask the pharmacist. Because of privacy laws, you have to wait away from the counter, but please come back in 15 minutes, and I will take care of your order.”
You: “Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to look into this for me. I will call my boss and explain the situation. I’ll return in 15 minutes to sort this out. Thanks again.”
While the pharmacy receptionist appears to be abrupt, the script provides clues to the factors that influenced her response to the client. First, the pharmacy is understaffed, and the receptionist must single-handedly answer all of the phones and fulfill the demands of several clients. It is likely that many callers have been hostile towards the receptionist, causing her to feel disempowered because of her inability to retreat from their hostility. The receptionist is likely in a stressful position and must quickly prioritize the requests of several customers who have contacted her by phone and in person. In contrast, the customer only two tasks, to pick up his prescription and return to work. Both parties are experiencing time constraints; however, the receptionist is more burdened by conflicting obligations and thus more defensive. Because the receptionist is experiencing high levels of stress and views the customer as an additional stressor, it is likely not important to her to pay attention to and use supporting behaviors to manage this conflict. Because of these differing positions, the client is more willing to be compromising while the receptionist is in a combative mood.
Adler, Ronald B., Lawrence B. Rosenfeld, and Russel F. Proctor. Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.