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Recommendations for avoiding ‘practical’ sources of conflict

Healthy conflict is not bad. People will always have different perspectives and disagree about things. Aggression is the negative behaviour which needs to be avoided.

Also avoid manipulative behaviour, when people are devious or lack empathy or refuse to accept responsibility.

In particular, everyone has to give and receive criticism, especially when they work closely together, or when people manage others.

Here are some tips for clarity and harmony.

For Employers

1. Give clear guidance – Preferably, you will have provided a job description, so the worker knows that they will be expect to perform certain tasks – such as driving, cooking, shopping, domestic chores, personal care. But also, it would be helpful to provide clear and up-front descriptions of routine tasks and how these tasks are to be completed. All this planning and guidance ought to be reviewed periodically.

2. Practise assertive communication - Clearly state your needs or what you want. Own your needs or opinions. Respect the rights of others.

3. Learn how to give constructive feedback and criticism. For example, remember the ‘sandwich’ technique: say something positive about the PAs work; then address the problem area; and then finish by praising something that has been done well.

4. Remember the difference between being clear and assertive, and micromanaging. Nobody likes it when they have no autonomy at all in their workplace. Listen to suggestions from PAs – they sometimes can see solutions that have not occurred to you!

5. When you feel angry with your PA, remember the SOS technique.

a) Step Back. Withdraw from the situation. Do not respond immediately. Emotionally detach. Breathe deeply. Take some time to ‘cool down’ a little, so you are not driven by your feelings, but have thought things through.

b) Observe. What is happening? Think of yourself. Why are you annoyed? Is it because of something that’s going on in your life? Is it because you feel a lack of control over your life? Is it because you feel isolated? How is your impairment affecting you at the moment: is it making you tired, or is pain making you irritable. Think of your PA. What is going on in his/her life which may be affecting him/her? Weigh up these factors.

c) Step-in. Resolve the situation, based on what you have processed in the second step.

For Personal Assistants

1. Always remember that you are on their employers time, not your own. It’s fine to be friendly, but there are tasks to be done. It’s not just about completing the chores, it’s about being attentive towards how your employer wants tasks performed.

2. Assertive communication. Clearly state your needs or what you want. Own your needs or opinions. Respect the rights of others. Avoid manipulative behaviour. If you are passive or non-assertive:

a) You might end up agreeing to weak compromises or impractical solutions which you both feel unhappy with

b) Although you might have avoided a difficult situation or upsetting your employer, frustration or resentment will continue

c) Persistent passive behaviour will cause you to lose self-esteem and confidence in your ability to deal with problems – sometimes this can cause internal tension and stress

d) Your employer may lose respect for you and find your lack of assertion irritating

3. Learn how to take criticism. It’s not easy to get negative feedback. It affects our self-esteem. But everyone has to hear constructive criticism from time to time. Here are some tips in receiving criticism:

a) Practise active listening. Maintain eye contact. Keep your body language open – don’t fold your arms defensively! If you don’t understand what the other has said, ask clarifying questions.

b) Never argue. give thanks for the constructive feedback. Acknowledge what has been said.

c) Evaluate the feedback over the next few hours or days. You should neither automatically believe, or automatically reject criticism. Look for the truth. Is the criticism valid? Have others said similar things to you? In your heart, do you feel that it’s right?

d) Be mindful. Don’t beat yourself up. Look after yourself by doing something nice for yourself. Look for ways in which you can change your behaviour or do things better. Tell the person what steps you’ve taken to improve.

4. When you feel angry with your employer, remember the SOS technique.

a) Step Back. Withdraw from the situation. Do not respond immediately. Emotionally detach. Breathe deeply. Take some time to ‘cool down’ a little, so you are not driven by your feelings, but have thought things through.

b) Observe. What is happening? Think of yourself. What’s happening with your employer. Are they acting like this because of something that’s going on in their life? Is it because they feel a lack of control over their life? Is it because they feel isolated? How is their impairment affecting them at the moment: is it making them tired, or is pain making them irritable. Think of your own life. What is going on in your life which may be affecting you? Weigh up these factors.

c) Step-in. Resolve the situation, based on what you have processed in the second step.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Role of Personal Assistants in Disability Support

UEA (University of East Anglia)

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