By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD
May 29, 2019
Work groups at their best are cooperative and productive. At their worst they spend more time arguing than getting work done for your patients and practice. Here’s how to manage conflict among your employees.
Let’s start by understanding the cause of conflict in the workplace. Conflict often occurs when two (or more) people are working on the same project, but have different personalities, different work styles or different goals.
A person who likes short and quick communication can quickly become frustrated with a person who provides long, detailed explanations to every communication. Attempts at humor, especially sarcasm, can be misunderstood very easily by others. Conflict happens when the perfectionist staff member sees what they perceive as a lack of attention to detail in a co-worker. Compound this with those people who feel the need to point out every fault in others and we have the ingredients for a conflict stew.
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Our goal as leaders in the practice is to solve the problem, keep the team intact and move forward. A key understanding is: “… conflict arises out of personal values clashing — people feel that what’s most important to them has been dishonored.”
Take these three steps to make sure staff (and doctors) have a healthy approach to conflict resolution:
STEP 1: Make sure every member has the same shared passion for the practice mission and values. This requires hiring the right people, and then making sure your training program is clear in communicating your practice mission and values.
STEP 2: Actively manage your practice culture by insisting:
a) … that every staff member knows they are an important part of your practice.
b) … that every staff member knows the valuable contributions that each staff member contributes to the practice.
c) … that every staff member knows you appreciate what they contribute to the practice.
d) … that every staff member knows the exact process for them to air grievances, and that your expectation is they will do so in a professional and productive manner.
STEP 3: When conflict occurs, turn this into a brainstorming session by having each person do the following:
a) Offer solutions that not only solve, but resolve, the situation.
b) Have each person share their view of the situation, then share their view of the other person’s perspective. Have each person acknowledge and validate the other person’s viewpoint without taking it personally if the other person has a different perspective.
c) Ask questions like …
i) What can you agree on in this situation?
ii) What is useful about continuing this discussion?
iii) What are you hoping will come out of this?
This process is not something you do once. This requires ongoing education that must be revisited at least twice a year at office meetings. Healthy conflict resolution is as much proactive as it is reactive work.