3 Steps to Resolving Conflict

November 6, 2018
Carolyn C. Shadle, PhD

,
John L. Meyer, PhD

Mitigating conflict between team members requires a concerted effort. Here’s an effective approach that leaves everyone feeling like a winner.

As Dr. Nelson is leaving the exam room, she overhears Maria, one of the long-term veterinary technicians in the practice, berating Joanne, a new technician, within earshot of a client, Mr. Flanigan. Dr. Nelson was aware of the tension between the 2 team members and decided now that something must be done.

Some members of the veterinary profession have all the medical knowledge and technical know-how they need, but are not skilled in communicating with their coworkers or clients. Maria is one of those people. She is irritated by Joanne’s inability to separate herself professionally from her clients, and her irritation got the best of her today—in front of Mr. Flanigan.

The following steps would be useful for Dr. Nelson—or any practice owner or manager—to employ to defuse this situation:

Step 1. Interview Maria and Joanne separately.

Begin with private, one-on-one meetings with both employees. The purpose of these meetings is to hear, in a safe setting, how each person perceives the situation and to reiterate relevant practice policies. It’s also the time to outline your objective—in this case that Maria and Joanna demonstrate a respectful working relationship—and to ask each of the parties to think about what she can do to improve the situation.

Step 1 involves a lot of listening. Dr. Nelson should not interject her observations or offer solutions. She should do her best to remain silent, except to invite further discussion with statements such as, “Say more about that.” She should assure each team member that she is making no judgments, only gathering information.

Step 2. Prepare to bring Maria and Joanne together.

Take time to prepare for this meeting. In a nonjudgmental way, think about the needs and interests of each technician. For example, Joanne believes it is important to interact positively with each client. Maria feels that Joanne doesn’t set personal boundaries with clients. It may be that personal or family issues emerged during the individual interview. For example, Maria’s revealing her family stress may help to understand this current outburst.

Step 3. Explore solutions together.

While meeting with both women together, it’s important for Dr. Nelson to recognize the professional competence of each one. She should take the opportunity to discuss their work style and attitude differences, while confirming their respective abilities. The goal is for each individual to better understand and appreciate the needs of the other.

Before the meeting is over, Dr. Nelson should invite Maria and Joanne to offer suggestions on actions each will take to improve the situation and then carefully evaluate the merits of each. Decide on future actions, invite commitment, and plan on a time frame for follow-up.