Conflict resolution tools (Proceedings)


Why is it that 60% of a manager's time is spent on human resource issues?

Why is it that 60% of a manager's time is spent on human resource issues? A large portion of that is overseeing conflict resolution.

When speaking with veterinary technicians and technician students it seems they are hungry for tools that will help them bring tough questions and concerns to light with their managers and veterinarians. They are also willing to offer solutions, which is the best part of being a proactive team member.

If this sounds like the challenges you deal with, you are obviously not alone. Veterinary Economics, Firstline, Veterinary Technician Journal and other nationally recognized magazines have discussed these problems and offered solutions for literally decades.

You may believe that "tiptoeing around," avoiding conflict, will make it go away. Think again! Avoiding conflict makes the conflict worse. Like birth, taxes and death, conflict is an inevitable part of life. Workplaces that accept differences, understand attitudes, and encourage open dialogue offer safe environments to bring conflict to light. Self-managed teams may be held more accountable and have more empathy towards management decisions and empowered to make a difference.

Conflict resolution tools include creating a plan, anticipate conflict, work one-on-one, know your role in the drama, continue to educate yourself on interpersonal skills and reach out for help.

Planning for success

Your employee handbook may outline how grievances are to be handled. Review it, learn it, live it.

Sheila Grosidier, BS, RVT writes for Firstline, is on the Editorial Advisory Board Members and is a nationally recognized consultant. She wrote an article outlining guidelines to create a plan for conflict resolution you can implement in your veterinary hospital. Visit to download the details. Search: Sample Conflict Resolution Plan, July 2008. She states, "Each clinic should create a policy and review it with the team-before you have a serious problem."

When veterinary teams are given the same procedures and policies to follow, there is a sense of continuity and respect. Giving the team the tools to succeed are essential. During orientation of a new employee, managers and supervisors introduce the grievance policy and process. Identify who the immediate supervisor is, encourage all employees to speak with their co-worker regarding differences, allow for them to come up with solutions and work on their working relationship, together. This takes self-discipline and maturity. Open dialogue and following the process as outlined is imperative.

Hospital charter

A well-managed hospital in Denver utilizes the DEER concept. When they interview potential team members for hire, their focus is on pet care, client education and interpersonal skills. They hire individuals who can relate to and work within their simple Hospital Charter in regards to co-workers: Diversity, Equality, Empowerment and Respect.

Look within

How you deal with conflict is solely your responsibility and yours alone. Always ask yourself, "What role am I playing in this drama?" You are better off taking responsibility for your own actions and begin processing from within your own realm of understanding. It is easiest to blame; however it is in your best interest to understand your part in the conflict. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Six tips to managing team conflict

1. Pick your battles

2. Anticipate conflict

3. Use neutral language

4. Practice preventive maintenance

5. Practice active listening

6. Leverage yourself

There is hope. By facing and managing differences directly, it is possible to eliminate tension and angry emotions along with strengthening co-worker and important relationships.

Benefits of engaging include personal development and growth. Overcoming and identifying the "large elephant in the room" will enhance work relationships and work proficiency will strengthen. Once you are comfortable with the concepts and know how the positive results decrease stress and improve job satisfaction your self-confidence increases. Allowing for open dialogue gains appreciation and demonstrates trustworthiness.


"Giving and receiving feedback is uncomfortable at first. The solution: Learn good techniques and do this often so it becomes part of the practice culture. In work environments where feedback is continual and appropriate, most people expect and welcome the opportunity to improve," states Dr. Smith in her book, Team Satisfaction Pays. She goes on to include what proper feedback looks like, what words work and how to remain respectful while offering feedback.

The best way to meet differences is to develop a plan. Always keep in mind that it is the behavior or inadequate tasks/duties that are the focus of change, not the person. Be sincere, be attentive, and be honest, working with everyone involved. Fix the problem, not the person. Pick a private place to discuss the problem, possible solutions and further exchange of experiences. Choose a neutral location. Point out the goals and the benefits of resolution. Focus on the issues, not the person. Writing is a powerful tool and can help you to look at the situation objectively. When processes are done "differently" that does not mean the process is "bad or wrong." Always choose to listen, engage, mirror the conversation, process and respond in a calm manner. Seek first to understand. Listen to the circumstances of the situation, hear their side of the story, remain open-minded and then seek to be understood.

Ask open ended questions and give the person time to digest the question and respond.

  • How can we find common ground?

  • What can we do in the future to alleviate this problem?

  • How can we brainstorm solutions?

In the award winning book The Joy of Conflict, author Gary Harper helps readers understand conflict and why it arises through the lens of the "drama triangle" between victims, villains and heroes. He points out that due to rapid changes in the workplace and in families, confrontations can undermine productivity and poison relationships. Practical skills are given to move beyond the drama to resolve conflicts collaboratively. You are surely to find a gem or two that will assist you in becoming a graceful employee or family member who enters into conflict with an open heart and with the tact to seek solutions.

Diverse skill sets

Suzanne Matson, MA, LPC, NCC was recently hired as a veterinary practice manager. Her veterinarians knew of her past experience as a Licensed Professional Counselor and embraced the skills she brought to the team. She was hired to implement 1) a "self-management employee" model and 2) "pay-for-performance" model for their practice and it has worked out extremely well. Her main objective was to create a hospital culture that allowed for self-management. She stresses that resolution is dependent upon the "process" and following the guidelines set forth for everyone.

Managers with diverse backgrounds may bring a breath of fresh air to a team that has been stagnating. Interviewing individuals strong with human resource experience is a good idea. Managers with previous experience may be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association's certificate. Certified Veterinary Practice Managers are a diverse group of professionals!

Mediation as an option

Lynae Walker, CVT, BS is part-owner and practice manager of a specialty veterinary hospital in Parker, CO. She has taken her ownership very seriously and understands first-hand the difficulties veterinary teams have with conflict resolution. She took her career to the next level by becoming a mediator.

Mediators are neutral third parties brought on board to help look at the culture from an objective view and offer common ground facilitation. In mediation, the folks in disagreement come up with the solution. In arbitration, the third party listens to both sides and then imposes the binding solution. In most cases, mediation is the win/win situation because the outcome is determined by the individuals in the dispute. Professional mediators are trained. Their services may be sought out when a manager feels that the best option is to hire a professional. If the team members are worth keeping and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, hiring a mediator may work. Some situations are so emotionally charged, that a facilitator is the only option. A mediator's main role is to help people communicate with each other and come up with a solution (without giving them the answers-easier said than done!).

Educational resources

Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN) offers online classes. Heather Howell, LVT, MBA, teaches 2 modules and attendees receive continuing education credits. View for upcoming real time courses.

Course Description: Conflict management skills are essential in any business. This course intends to teach office managers, practice managers, veterinarians, and all support staff more effective communication and conflict resolution techniques. The intent is to impart knowledge and techniques that can be utilized with clients as well as coworkers when conflict occurs.

Fred Pryor Seminars offer managers and team members classes via audio cassettes, webinars and in class presentations. View for classes near you.

Course Description: Never again fall victim to those who love to make life miserable for the rest of us. This training gives you concrete techniques for dealing with difficult people in the workplace and at home.

Veterinary Management Consultation (VMC) offers a variety of classes for the entire veterinary team. Their H.R. Boot Camp specifically tackles management challenges, head on. Supervisors and managers benefit from attending. Continuing education credits are received. Visit for seminars and updates.

The American Animal Hospital Association provides conflict resolution courses for members and non-members. Veterinary Management School (VMS) Level One is for those moving into management roles from within the veterinary hospital. Technicians promoted within the veterinary clinic may have special challenges, managing friends; establishing new roles of leadership and taking on new responsibilities are defined. This 4 day, intensive training offers 28 hours of continuing education credits. Visit for complete details and other courses including conflict resolution skills.

VetPartners, formerly AVPMCA, allows you to find a consultant in your area specializing in human resource applications. View to identify a consultant (possibly even a veterinary technician) who has the skills to assist your team through conflict resolution.

In conclusion

Bring your concerns to light! Decide how you will take an active role in seeking a solution. Determine if the conflict is due to communication styles, differences in task orientation, lack of management, holding an employee accountable or another underlying problem. Use honed interpersonal, self-management skills to be as professional as possible. Create a plan, anticipate conflict, work one-on-one, know your role in the drama, continue to educate yourself and reach out for help when it is warranted. You have support; seek out a mentor, speak with your supervisor, and allow the process to unfold always looking for a win/win solution.


Confront the Elephant. Shawn McVey, MA, MSW. Firstline. March, 2008

Conquering Team Conflict. Katherine Bontrager. Veterinary Economics. June, 2005.

When to approach the boss about team conflict. Cindy Adams, MSW, PhD. Firstline. December 2008.

When you don't have a formal review. Firstline. November

Team Satisfaction Pays, Organizational Development for Practice Success. Dr. Carin Smith. Smith Veterinary Consulting and Publishing. 2008

The Joy of Conflict Resolution: Transforming Victims, Villains and Heroes in the Workplace and at Home. Gary Harper. New Society Publishers. 2004

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