• Open Access

Skills Training in Communication and Related Topics Part 1: Dealing with conflict and change

By Ellen J. Belzer Published by Radcliff , 2009 . RRP $82.50 .

Reviewed by Ruth Moeller

Organisational Development and Training Consultant, Transitional Space Pty Ltd

Conflict and change are eternal features of any organisation and Ellen Belzer has written a resource kit for those running training on conflict management and change focused on the health field. This book is a set of exercises, activities and case studies with topics including difficult conversations, conflict management and communicating with emotional intelligence. Each activity has clear objectives and instructions that would allow a trainer or team leader to run the activity successfully.

Ms Belzer is the president of Belzer Seminars and Consulting, a company specialising in negotiation, management and communication training for health care professionals in the US. The case studies and scenarios in this book are all in health settings and deal with typical issues faced by health care workers, both between themselves and with patients. There is an air of authenticity about the situations, no doubt drawn from Ms Belzer's experience that would resonate with other health professionals.

Ms Belzer says she has developed this book based on two premises: “that you will find time to teach communication and related subjects to health care professionals and that you'll save time by ultilising the activities provided to you” (Belzer, 2009 pg xii). The challenge for the trainer is the theories, strategies, or references that these exercises could be used to support or illustrate are missing. I found this particularly in the section on applying emotional intelligence. The case studies have the objective to practise using emotional intelligence skills, nowhere are those skills listed, explained or referenced; so we have the tools but nothing to use them on.

The case study of a difficult conversation informing a belligerent mother that her child has head lice deals with a nurse who tends to over-explain or another of talking to a patient who left her last doctor for calling her ‘fat’ could provide useful and challenging discussion and learning opportunity. However, in the same section, there is a case study on informing a patient of his terminal illness that lacks the underpinning skills and knowledge to deal with this situation, or provides any guidance on where to find them. I worry that this case study could be used inappropriately.

The down side to the use of examples and case studies is that the author seems to have had a good deal of fun naming characters, which I found somewhat twee. There is Eva Lusion, Dr Patienz, Iva Haddinuff and Nora Nightengale RN. These could be easily amended but mean that the handouts would need to be changed. I would recommend this to reduce the cringe factor.

The book is helpful as it provides three matrices that help the user determine which exercise best meets their needs. The first shows the exercises for a specific topic, the next identifies which exercise is most relevant for which health profession and the third identifies the length so you can select to one that best suits your time frame. The author has also provided tips for those conducting exercises with ideas on managing debriefs and even a range of quotes that relate to the topics in the book.

Ms Belzer has written a book that is a resource of tools and exercises that could support training to illustrate or engage learners who are dealing with conflict management or change with a specific focus on health professions. Experienced trainers would be able to write their own case studies, contextualised for their own situation but they could use those in this book as a source of inspiration. Those with less experience could use the activities in this book as a way of engaging learners with the topic, once they had provided the knowledge and skills framework.