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Prevent explosions by tackling conflict at its source
Identify and address the root of each problem promptly—you'll learn from your issues and create a pleasant environment at your practice.



The practice owner or manager's game plan is simple: identify the early signs of frustration and fix them to avoid the advanced stages that lead to an explosion. The greatest challenge in conflict mitigation is the lack of an outlet for frustration. In order to address this, it's important to help your employees feel comfortable coming to you with problems.

Resolution of conflict begins with identifying frustrations. Preemptive resolution is identifying what's affecting the practice before adverse consequences result.

In order to help identify these frustrations in your practice, have employees fill out a daily worksheet listing four things:
1. Clarify and verify a policy.
2. Identify a bottleneck.
3. Offer a suggestion.
4. Express a frustration of the day.

This exercise can help team members communicate their issues and keeps management aware that potential problems are cooking.

Management's essential step in the resolution process is to focus on the underlying issue that's causing the conflict. Once you know that certain stress cues are present, ask employees to not only identify the issue but also propose a solution.

Here are some other ways to actively manage conflict in your veterinary practice:

Display a red hook. Near the front door of my clinic hangs a hook made of welded-together horseshoes and painted cherry red. It serves as a reminder that negative conduct in the workplace is "detrimental to the practice's mission" and driven by personal issues, so we make this proposal: "Hang your personal issues on the red hook when you enter in the morning and pick them up on the way home. Do not let them enter the clinic, or you will be sent home."

Improve training. A lot of times, conflict starts with faulty training. Failure to train staff members or monitor their performance, including holding regular reviews, is a common cause of practice conflict.

Provide good leadership. A business is best led by a benevolent dictator. Oppressive practice supervisors and leaders add to practice conflict. So take your cue from a pack of wild dogs that purges its oppressive canine leaders—get rid of tyrannical despots in your veterinary practice.

React and respond. Excitability to flight is a well-known equine trait that horses use to protect themselves; the horse senses something and bolts off to protect itself. This process is called "react and respond." The two actions are instantaneous; a feral horse cannot control the response. "React and respond" is also a common human response to the stress of conflict. Like horses, we cannot control our emotional reaction to a stimulus—a comment or action from another person. However, unlike the horse, we can control our actions when we respond, and practice leaders must respond appropriately.

The best response for effectively resolving a conflict is to engage in positive and nurturing conduct. Or, put more simply, the Germans have a saying that translates to this: "Count to ten. Then respond."

Dr. Michael Riegger is chief medical officer at Northwest Animal Clinic Hospital and Specialty Practice. Contact him at (505) 898-0407,
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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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