Managing Critical Conversations in a Tense Social Climate

By Chuck Humphrey, B.A., EMT-B, CAC, CACO, CADS*


Does it seem like everyone is tense today?

Tense- A feeling, showing, or causing mental strain; anxious. Sound familiar? It’s the world we live in today. There are a host of tense people. Your neighbor is tense because his political views differ largely from yours…and he wants you to know it! Your co-worker is tense because she’s fed up with wearing a mask. Your boss is tense because he has just had the fifth fellow staffer take a sick day because of COVID and he’s facing a day on the truck instead of the overdue paperwork he owes to the Board of Directors, yesterday.

Managing Critical Conversations In A Tense Social Climate

Conversation Spill Over

Because the world is tense, our conversations often become tense. There’s a definite spillover as you listen to people talk. When I say talk, I can read it in the newspaper accounts of acts of violence, racial slurring, hate speech, and on and on it goes. I see it on the TV news when people are shouting at one another, fostering an air of intolerance and incivility. The art of debate and conversation is lost in this climate when people refuse to sit down to talk and agree to disagree.

So, we take to throwing verbal barbs at one another and poke our “friends” on Facebook and Twitter.

There is an answer

By now you’re asking…

“Chuck, isn’t this a blog about ambulance billing? What does this have to do with anything?

Well, because I do interact with EMS people every day of my life (and I am one of those people), I’m tapping out this blog to remind us all that there is an answer. I live and breathe the stress you- my EMS brothers and sisters- experience every day. I hear about your short-staffing worries. I live in your concern over reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid that don’t even come close to covering your costs. I feel your fear of the pandemic and what you see when you interact with the sickest of patients all the while thinking; “Will this be me tomorrow?”

So, as I sit and reflect at each day’s end, I find solace in what I consider to be the basic goodness in most humans, and then I am motivated to offer the following mechanisms for managing the critical conversations we all must have in this very tense social climate.

Anticipate a Challenging Conversation (or two)

Face it…sometime today, tomorrow, or whenever in the near future…you’re going to have a challenging conversation (or two.)

Recognize right up front that the only way we accomplish our goals each and every day is by communicating. Some of those conversations are going to be tense. It’s a given. Unfortunately, not all communications we undertake can be “rainbows and pink balloons.”

If we accept the fact that there will be a tense interaction in our future, then we can prepare our minds and even our souls for the day.


One of the best ways to mitigate any unpleasantry is to practice good communication skills on a regular basis.

What books have you read lately to become a better communicator? Have you taken time to read up on diversity, learn about your neighbor’s dissenting political opinion, or closed your eyes to take a minute to put yourself in your co-worker’s shoes?

And, if you have done any of the above, then have you made a game plan as to how you’ll prepare your mind and maybe even your heart to have that critical conversation?


I’ve found the best way to approach a critical conversation that may have the potential to become tense is to script that conversation ahead of time.

Sit down ahead of the conversation, if time allows (if time doesn’t allow, consider putting off the conversation to another time to allow you to draw up a script…) and map out the questions and key facts of what’s to be discussed. I find that this allows me to strip away my own biases and emotions and drill into the facts at hand to laser focus on the heart of the matter.

Scripting also allows me to “breathe” in the moment as I move away from the story in my head, and into the story, I can create with the person I’m having the difficult conversation with. Let’s be real…we can tell ourselves things are what we make them to be in our head ahead of time, instead of taking time to listen to process how the other person feels in the moment.


I land this discussion with a plea.

Listen! Engage ears. Disengage tongue. That is until it makes sense to speak.

If I’ve learned one key thing in all of my careers, I’ve learned that I talk too much and listen too little. Doing so has cost me dearly.

I’ve lost friends because I failed to listen. I’ve angered colleagues because I talked over them instead of communicating with them and I’ve made blunders because I failed to collect facts and instead spewed crap only to have to walk back what I’ve said…which is completely painful.

Becoming a good listener enables empathy within, calms me, and gives me time to process. If it works for me, it will work for you.

And then, when that next critical conversation comes up, you’ll be prepared. Good luck…keep your head above water and communicate. The world will be a better, calmer more collaborative space when we all learn to manage our conversations effectively.

*Chuck Humphrey is the Senior Director of Compliance and a Territory Sales Manager for Quick Med Claims. He is one of our industry experts with over 30 years of experience in the EMS industry.

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