A crisis is one possible outcome when an unresolved conflict escalates; it can be seen in the way the situation comes to a head. If we examine the word ‘crisis’ we discover its Ancient Greek roots. Originally the word was translated as appraisal, opinion or decision; later, it was increasingly used in the context of something coming to a climax. ‘Crisis’ thus also refers to a situation escalating towards a problematic turning point. The situation requires a decision, otherwise there is the risk of further escalation. In this context, anything that attacks and endangers the company’s existence may be called crisis-relevant. If conflicts last longer than two weeks, they begin to attack the company’s essential substance. The point at which a situation progresses from perceived normality to a crisis situation for one participant depends on what the participants have experienced in the past and the duration of the destabilising factors. For example, daily clashes in the working context can take place and appear to be tolerated and coped with by all participants, but not for an extended period. At some point, an apparently everyday conflict at work crosses the borderline to crisis, with all the consequences that such deadlocks bring.
The success of a business, an enterprise, a medical practice, or a small or medium-sized company always impacts the employees – so does failure. Heavy financial losses, or a lack of customers, clients or patients, cause both personal friction and crisis-like problems: in other words, crises that no one can escape. The potential for conflict increases in proportion to the external influences.
A working relationship caught in an ongoing conflict suffers crisis-like symptoms similar to those that can also occur in acute situations such as when facing a shock, after a traumatic experience and in some cases, during periods of fear. In the professional context, these symptoms often occur sometime after the shocking experience. Loss of motivation, occasional loss of contact to one’s surroundings with strong withdrawal tendencies, reduced tolerance in the face of external influences and noises, increased sensitivity and irritability, and an increasing sense of fear in everyday life: symptoms like these reveal the physical and mental impact of ongoing breakdowns in interpersonal relationships.
In the following, we give three examples of interpersonal crises in group practices as suggestions for recognising the features of crises.
Practice: Tax adviser
Feature: poisonous atmosphere
- “I literally couldn’t bear my partner any more. When my partner announced that he was taking the next day off, I was really looking forward to the next morning. When I got to work and there he was in the office after all, I couldn’t get any work done. I was at my wits‘ end and couldn’t think clearly. My disappointment at his presence was too much”. (… ) tax adviser
Practice: General medical group practice
Feature: loss of rationality
- “I remember that it was Tuesday morning at about 11:45 when I opened my consulting room door to call the next patient. At that very moment, my colleague opened her door opposite. We stood facing each other with the full waiting room between us. She just said briefly to me, “Renate, you must finally stop pinching my patients…” and then banged the door shut. I was shocked, stunned; I called my next patient in a state of confusion. From then on, I couldn’t bear to be near her. Even after an apology, my dislike of her didn’t change. I could have coped if it had only happened once, but it just went on and on. In the evenings I was ill, seriously ill (…).“ Doctor in a group practice
Practice: Managing board
Feature: pent-up rage
- “We were sitting in the board meeting as we do every Thursday when my colleague, who is usually a very calm type, suddenly stood up and slapped my female colleague with the words, “That’s the reward for all your damn plotting…” It happened so fast that none of us had time to intervene. My female colleague left the meeting and resigned from her position on the board two months later. The institution lost a very able person as a result. No one had expected that he of all people would act in such a hostile way. We argue a lot. That’s normal. Since that happened, everything proceeds a bit more slowly than usual, as if we’re paralysed (…).” Managing director
Elimination of crisis conditions in working relationships
Part of INSTITUT SOMMER’s crisis intervention for companies entails eliminating crisis conditions. If we observe escalating situations at either indoor or outdoor team-building events, team development sessions or within incentives or management coaching and consultations etc., we seek the company’s agreement and intervene immediately.