5 Tips for Curbing Conflict in Your Veterinary Practice

Sometimes even the most professional individuals can find themselves in situations of conflict in the workplace. Most veterinary practice owners and managers know that circumstances will sometimes arise that will cause team members to disagree and butt heads. It’s how you deal with these scenarios that will make or break your practice’s success. To stay a step ahead of the game, here are five proven conflict management strategies that will ensure smooth sailing over even the roughest of spots.

Common Causes of Veterinary Practice Conflict

Before delving into the strategies for overcoming conflict, it can be helpful to gain a clearer understanding of why these issues arise in the first place. Veterinary teams often face conflict due to things like:

  • Gossip amongst team members
  • Lack of communication
  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness
  • Failure to work together
  • Uneven workload
  • Unclear direction
  • Unfair treatment by management (i.e. the boss plays favorites)

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s enough to provide some insight into why your team members might be hitting roadblocks in their working relationships. To that end, here are a few things you can try to right the ship once again:

Acknowledge that a problem exists as swiftly and effectively as possible. The more conflict is allowed to fester, the more toxic the culture of your practice will become. Nobody enjoys playing referee, but as a manager or practice owner, it’s just part of your duties. Burying your head in the sand and ignoring the tension will do nothing. Instead, address it head on. Not only will this demonstrate your leadership skills but it will help resolve issues much faster, which will prevent future problems.

Take time to evaluate the situation from all angles. Remember, there are two sides to every story. Don’t just assume because employee A says employee B is sabotaging his or her ability to perform at work that employee A isn’t an equal part of the problem. When conflict arises, the best thing to do is quickly address it and take the time necessary to gather all pertinent information.

Identify the root of the problem and the goal of resolution. You can’t expect to correct a problem if you don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with. You also can’t expect to move forward without a clear vision of what you’d like to accomplish. If team members are bickering because they’re feeling unappreciated, for example, resolve to help management improve in that area so that attitudes begin to shift in the right direction.

Encourage open, honest and multi-directional communication. Just as there are two sides to every story, there are often several different perspectives that are in play during a conflict situation. Open up the lines of communication, encouraging each individual involved to share his or her feelings while also actively listening to the feelings expressed by others. In many cases, just being heard can help begin to resolve a negative situation.

Develop an action plan and make it a priority. In most cases, simply agreeing to disagree isn’t enough to eliminate the underlying tension. The best way to resolve conflict is to develop a plan for overcoming it and then enacting that plan accordingly. Once you’ve gone through the first few steps of identifying the root problem and gathering all necessary information, agreeing on a solution is the next step. Try asking each party to share their thoughts and suggestions and then use those ideas to come up with a compromise that everyone can feel good about.

These tactics should help keep your employees in line and working together harmoniously, which is critical to delivering the best possible patient care. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge when a team member is simply toxic to your practice culture and is either unable or unwilling to change. In these instances, the wisest answer may be to cut ties and move on.

The ultimate goal of any conflict management strategy is, of course, to help each individual learn the skills necessary to resolve issues on their own in a positive and productive manner. By applying the above tips, you can achieve this goal, ultimately turning your practice into a balanced, thriving and culturally-sound business operation.

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