Training staff to manage conflict

Training staff to manage conflict

Workplace conflict is common, and medical offices are no exception. When you put a group of people together to work in a hectic environment where demands on time and energy are high and change is constant, occasional conflicts are sure to arise. Add to this the fact that medical office workers deal every day with patients who are often feeling stressed, anxious or hassled by the complexity of navigating the healthcare system and you have yet another source of potential conflict – that between patients and staff (in which case the patient is always right, but that’s another article altogether).

Whether your office has five employees or 50, it’s important to acknowledge that a certain amount of minor conflict is normal whenever human beings who are blessed with so many unique personalities are involved. Although it’s tempting, ignoring conflict is the worst possible way of dealing with it, or, as it were, not dealing with it. Small tensions and squabbles, left unchecked, can quickly escalate to full-blown battles and create a negative atmosphere that permeates the practice. So when you sense conflict brewing, deal with it sooner rather than later.

A section of your employee manual should be devoted to how staff members are expected to behave as they work with one another. While it’s not possible to address in a policy manual the details of every type of conflict that may arise, you can include a statement to the effect that all employees are required to treat one another with respect and courtesy, resist the urge to gossip (the cause of a lot of conflict) and behave civilly toward everyone, including patients.

When minor conflicts do arise, encourage the parties involved to work out their differences among themselves, quietly and maturely. Assuming an issue is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, conduct a brief assessment after the fact to diagnose the root of the conflict, how it escalated and what can be learned from the event that might help prevent a future kerfuffle.

When staffers cannot resolve issues on their own, it’s time for the manger to step in. No one likes to play referee, but sometimes it’s part of the job. Managers interested in learning more about how to handle conflict might consider reading How To Reduce Workplace Conflict And Stress, by Anna Maravelas and/or Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies, by Vivian Scott.

One way to proactively train staff to manage conflict is to present fictional scenarios at staff meetings and open issues up for learning discussions. You might present, for example, how “Janet” and “Maria” find working together difficult because Janet believes Maria isn’t doing her fair share of work that they are jointly responsible for completing. Another scenario could involve an irate patient standing in the reception area loudly expressing unhappiness about how long he is being made to wait. Talking through possible ways to handle issues such as these can help staff members be more conscious and skilled at managing real conflict when it does arise.

If you have serious or ongoing conflict in your practice, it may be beyond training and helping staff learn to resolve issues. In this case, an outside mediator or arbitrator might be needed. Visit the Association for Conflict Resolution or the American Arbitration Association to find someone in your area. Edit