Throughout the summer my husband, Randy, and I go crabbing in our 10-foot skiff. As we motor around the bay, dropping and hauling-in crab pots, I’m on the lookout for waves made by the wake of other boats.
This is because if our boat isn’t positioned at the right angle (45 degrees) to oncoming waves while Randy is standing and (hopefully) hauling in a heavy pot full of crabs, it will toss him and the crab pot, right into the “drink”.
At work and in life, we all create wakes and waves. In healthcare, these wakes and waves are the moments when you experience the feeling of being tossed about by an unexpected burst of emotion (yours or someone else’s) and lose your center of gravity. Splash.
In the water, it’s easy to see and feel the effect of a boat pushing its way through the sea in the form of a literal wave. But what about the emotional wakes and waves that aren’t visible.
Take a look at the next two photos as I work through this metaphor.
You can see in the image of the single duck, a very lovely and gentle wake. The waves are in the form of ripples that glide along the surface of the water.
I’m sure most of your days working in healthcare are like this, yes? So not!
Now take a look at the image of two ducks swimming parallel.
What you notice is that the wake and subsequent wave from each individual duck, comes in contact with the other. In physics, when two waves superimpose on one another, they form a resultant wave of either greater, lower, or the same amplitude.
This is called an Interference Pattern.
Why this matters
Interference patterns cause moments of disequilibrium for you and “your boat”, in what might otherwise be, a calm day at sea.
Throughout your day, whether you work by telephone, in a clinic, at the bedside, or are the chief of a service line, your day is full of interference patterns; two or more waves generated by you and others that superimpose on each other.
Just as Randy would have lost his equilibrium without proper positioning of our boat to the wave, we health professionals, in our day-to-day lives and at work need to stay alert to the oncoming waves and consciously position our personal mental, emotional and spiritual vessels to maintain our equilibrium.
Interference Patterns and Disruptions
Imagine the kinds of interference patterns patients experience as they go through the healthcare system; the interference pattern of waiting for a test result, a rude encounter with a staff member, being poked and prodded, often by someone they don’t know very well, system inefficiencies and communication breakdowns.
You, too, are impacted by thousands of micro and macro interference patterns every day. Colleagues who snap, patients who suddenly decline, staff calling in sick, budgetary constraints, system inefficiencies and communication breakdowns. Uncountable moments of disruption.
The goal, though, is not to eliminate wakes and waves. That would be impossible.
Instead the goal is to be present to the wake you are creating and the interference patterns you come in contact with.
How to work with disruptions, interference patterns and maintain equilibrium
- Do not take the interference pattern, that space between you and the other, personally. While you are responsible for the wake you create, it helps to view the space between as just waves interacting.
- Recognize your speed and if possible slow down. The size of a wake is in relation to it’s speed. A fast boat leaves a larger and more tumultuous wake than a slower boat of the same size.
- Consciously prepare for the waves made by others by scanning and assessing mood, physical distress or someone’s search for meaning.
- Enter the situation at a 45 degree angle. Metaphorically and literally. People don’t feel so boxed in when we are slightly off the their side, but still within emotional range and eye contact.
- Recognize who in your environment causes large and disruptive interference patterns.
- Begin by observing and feeling into the kind of interference pattern that gets created. Do you feel off balance? Do you sometimes want to create more disruption, so they get off balance?
- Be honest. Notice the kinds of waves you create. Check in to see which ones are helpful and which ones aren’t.
- Have compassion for yourself and others. Most people are not aware of the disruption they cause. If you or they are acting out of stress, take a moment to pause and breathe.
Remember the ducks? With greater awareness of disruptions, as simply interference patterns, you can position yourself to ride the choppy waves across the waters of healthcare and create more calm seas around you.
With much love for all you do for yourself and for others,
PS: For more ways to work through the challenges of healthcare, check out my new program below.
The Medicine Walk: The Art of Transformative Inquiry