I always hated conflict between my staff. It made the day unpredictable, made the rest of the staff less productive and didn’t look great for customers. At first, I thought I had to accept these occurrences from time to time and there was no way to predict it. Unfortunately, as my departments suffered and we started to lose staff, I could no longer do nothing. I started talking to my team, mostly hoping to salvage these relationships to avoid turnover.
A theme started to emerge that most of the conflict was coming from poor communication. They talked about contradicting messages from managers, rude or defensive peers that made them feel standoffish, or projects I gave them in addition to their daily tasks that made them feel overwhelmed.
In the face of conflict, we can always avoid it. In fact, that feels more comfortable. I will admit, there were days when it was easier to avoid it and continue my day. I was managing upwards of 13 departments and had shared responsibility of total store functions. Sometimes, I didn’t have the mental space left over to take care of conflict. I am sure you can relate. Seeing 3-4 patients per hour, managing a business and trying to have enough energy left to take care of yourself or your family doesn’t leave a lot of extra time. But prolonged avoidance will only give these minor conflicts more weight and power. It creeps into business practices and you start to take it home with you. It’s important to prevent conflict from overtaking practice culture.
A few "Don't Dos" to help:
Don’t ignore it for too long. There are conflicts that your staff can resolve on their own and they should be given the opportunity to work it out on their own. However, if it carries on or starts to affect others, don’t delay stepping in.
Don’t miss an opportunity to communicate. Staff meetings, feedback, reviews, huddles, posting in the office, etc. are all opportunities to share with your staff. If you staff doesn’t understand the "Why?" behind a change or process, it is more likely to create conflict. Communicate often – twice as much as you think you should with a healthy mix of one-on-one conversations and team meetings.
Don’t assume. Feelings present in many ways, depending on personality and previous experiences. Just because it seems obvious to you the employee is being difficult doesn’t mean they realize it. There also could be more going on than you can see from the outside. Be open to hearing their side of the story.
Don’t say just anything. Instead of saying, "You are combative and make it impossible to get things done" say "From my perspective, you seem to be upset about the new office policy. You may not mean to make others uncomfortable with your actions, but this is having an effect on the practice." If you need practice with conversations led by statements starting with "I" and "how this affects others", start with your spouse, child, parents or closest friends.
Don’t look for a bad guy. The blame game has no place in conflict resolution and will only breed animosity across the practice. Keep in mind "the bad guy", from your staff perspective, might be you! I think we can agree that its unlikely you had malicious intentions.
There are still going to be days that it will be easier to avoid conflict instead of addressing it, but this is a skill you must practice. The more often you are willing to talk about these concerns, the more comfortable you will be, the more aware your staff becomes, and the more likely they will start to come to meaningful resolutions on their own.
Amy Alvarez, SHRM-CP, joined IDOC in February 2018 as Human Resources Consultant. Amy has experience in human resources in healthcare and retail, management in big box and specialty retail stores and physician recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for "hard to fill" roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, creating growth in retail business, employee relations, and so much more. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.