5 strategies to douse conflict when it erupts in veterinary practices

5 strategies to douse conflict when it erupts in veterinary practices

Feb 22, 2011
Las Vegas -- Conflict happens, marketing expert Karyn Gavzer told a packed room of veterinarians at the Western Veterinary Conference today.

The key, she adds, is to have the right culture and conflict-resolution system in place to resolve these skirmishes.

And most practice owners can attest that a feuding staff can make everyone in the hospital miserable. Veterinarians can, however, foster a practice culture where people take responsibility to resolve conflicts in a healthier way.

It starts, she says, by better understanding the reasons for the conflict -- from chronic absenteeism to bulldozing staff members and everything in between. In fact, respondents of a 2008 Vetmedteam.com survey identified the sources of workplace conflict:

* Gossip, 26 percent

* Lack of communication, 23 percent

* Failure to work together, 20 percent

* Lack of accountability, 10 percent

* Boss plays favorites, 9 percent

* Uneven workload, 4 percent

* Late or tardy, 3 percent.

We all know there are a wide range of personality types in any business -- from introverts to extroverts, from ring leaders to gossipers, and from exploders to silent sufferers. When the mix is wrong, conflict erupts. But remember, Gavzer says, the remedy is always communication.

Gavzer says that many businesses simply need to reframe the way they approach conflict in the workplace. Moreover, look at it as an opportunity to enable honest communication. "It takes team work to a better place," she says.

Gavzer offered five strategies to resolving conflicts within veterinary practices, including:

1. Stop buying your own story. In other words, think about a conflict from multiple points of view. Gather more information.

2. Set a goal to resolve the conflict.

3. Describe facts about the situation and your feelings.

4. Actively listen.

5. Agree on an action plan.

In many veterinary practices and businesses, one person often takes the role of resolving conflicts. The strategy will ultimately cause more problems than solutions, Gavzer adds.

In fact, when veterinarians were asked who was the intermediary when conflicts surface, the Vetmedteam.com survey showed:

42 percent were practice managers

14 percent, head technicians

14 percent, team members

14 percent, no one

13 percent, veterinary practice owners.

The ultimate solution is for practice owners to build a culture in which people are expected to solve their own problems.

Keep in mind, she says, conflict isn't necessarily about the event but how each person felt about a situation. If you can talk about it in meaningful ways, the conflict simply vanishes.