Drama in the Radio Room

As a new 9-1-1 operator, I learned a lot of things. For example, how to answer calls quickly, calm down angry and stressed out callers, and attain the kind of information officers need. Another thing I learned was personality conflicts are often prominent in emergency communication centers and can cause stress levels to be even higher. They also need to be worked through.

I had only been on my own in 9-1-1 for about two weeks when my supervisor called me into her office. I was nervous and quickly thought through all the calls I had taken, searching for a missed question or a harsh tone. I couldn't think of anything, so anxiety washed over me as I logged out and headed for the closed door. At least she hadn't asked me to bring my purse, so I still had a job--I hoped.

Pushing open the door, I saw my supervisor was not the only one in the room. One of the radio dispatchers was in there also. Jane (names have been changed to protect the innocent) had been an employee for almost as long as I had been alive. My supervisor asked me to sit down in the seat across from the two of them. I did as I was told crossing my legs and placing my folded hands in my lap. Then my supervisor began to speak.

"We called you in here because we wanted to make sure that there wasn't any problem between you and Jane."

At first I couldn't figure out why there would have been a problem. I tried to be respectful on the floor and listened to other employees when they gave me advice. I couldn't remember Jane ever having actually spoken to me.

"Why would there be a problem between us?" I asked.

"Because your husband was upset that I didn't let him eat last night," Jane replied, folding her arms.

All at once, it occurred to me and I almost laughed. When my husband, who was an officer with the department, had gotten home last night, he was fuming. Our department had a rule that prohibited an officer from taking a lunch when Priority Two or urgent calls for service were pending in their precinct. My husband's precinct was unique though, in that, it was dissected by a mountain. So, officers were assigned to either the north side or south side of the mountain. It was around 10 miles between the two. My husband worked on the north side and the call which was pending was a south side call. So, he ignored the dispatcher when she said he couldn't eat, instead going to his sergeant and getting permission. Jane took exception to this and called his lieutenant. Nothing came from it, except Jane and my husband being peeved, and the lieutenant scolding the sergeant. My husband told me the story and that was the end of it. At least I thought, until I found myself sitting in my supervisor's office being grilled about whether I was going to hold a grudge and being encouraged to talk things out before turning to petty gossip and bickering. Priding myself on being a professional, I thought the whole thing was absurd. Time and experience taught me how important it was that my supervisor had taken this step. Soon, I was surrounded with reasons employees with high stress jobs should make the job environment as pleasant as possible and how ugly things can turn when a "personality conflict" goes unaddressed.

Most personality conflicts are not issues between two people with differing personalities. If so, this would imply no solution exists and the atmosphere in the workplace can never be calm if they're scheduled together. Instead, most conflicts are caused by behaviors. Usually a series of behaviors continues the aggravation and often both parties end up retaliating against the other by treating them poorly and gossiping with co-workers. This creates an unfriendly work environment making working in close quarters uncomfortable. When others take sides, the conflict becomes more disruptive. With people's lives in their hands, emergency communication operators do not have the luxury of being focused on internal drama instead of work. Work911 suggests the following to help diffuse a stressful situation between co-workers and can be used to improve any relationship:

  • When both you and the other person are calm arrange, then have a private talk about the problem.
  • Explain your position in a non-accusatory fashion and use active listening skills when the other person talks.
  • Be respectful and avoid dramatics such as eye rolling or heavy sighing.
  • Immediately stop discussing the situation with other co-workers.
  • If the talk fails to diffuse the situation, consider utilizing a supervisor as a mediator.
  • Request help and suggestions, so you can focus on a positive solution.

Working through a problem with a co-worker in a mature manner can be the difference between looking forward to going to work and feeling like you have to put protective armor on your emotions prior to walking through the door. Emergency communication work is stressful enough without internal conflicts. The citizens calling have enough drama to satisfy anyone. Creating more with those who should be a source of support makes the work environment unpleasant for everyone. Although "personality conflicts" can be avoided in the beginning by taking responsibility for each of our behaviors, sometimes something is said or done causing a co-worker to be offended. Often, the offender doesn't even realize what happened. Being conscious of how we treat co-workers can prevent issues, but if something does occur, using some of these tools can keep it from getting blown out of proportion. Several years and many internal conflicts later, I now understand why my supervisor felt it was important I wasn't holding anything against Jane for her and my husband's disagreement. I no longer think the situation was humorous and absurd. I am grateful they cared enough about the integrity of the workplace to address it before it was too late.