Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Healthy Ways to Resolve Conflict

Conflict Resolution in the Medical PracticeInterpersonal relationships at work greatly determine the effectiveness of the overall organization— whether it succeeds or fails. The organization’s health rests heavily on whether individual members share common goals, treat one another with respect, and mutually encourage the best effort from each other.

Most people tend to avoid confrontation at all costs. But a positive outcome is more likely when staff members can address problems face-to-face with one another. It’s the first step in a more effective conflict-resolution strategy:

  • The process begins with the offended individual privately approaching the one who offended him or her, without discussing it with any other employees. 
  • If this doesn’t resolve the issue, either of the two parties may ask a third person - a neutral peer - to join the discussion as an arbitrator. 
  • Failing a satisfactory resolution, the employees then take their case to a supervisor or manager who makes a ruling and imposes discipline if necessary.
As with the legendary chicken-and-egg mystery, we’re not sure which comes first: an emotionally healthy organization, or an effective strategy for conflict resolution. But one thing’s for sure - you won’t have one without the other.

Medical offices suffering staff morale problems usually experience an inordinate amount of infighting, sniping, and backstabbing among the employees. You can address the problem in your practice by adopting a conflict-resolution policy that insists on everyone - from senior physician to lowliest file clerk - using the three-step process described in this article.

To make it work, though, your strategy must follow three approaches to implementation, too. Leave out any of these, and it will collapse like the proverbial three-legged stool:
  1. Describe the process in your personnel policy and procedure manual. Formal documentation serves several purposes: First, it introduces every employee and every new hire to the company’s conflict resolution policy. Yes, staff members sometimes neglect to read the manual before acknowledging that they received, read, and will abide by it. But that’s no reason not to document the policy. Second, it gives each employee a reference tool to review if they find themselves embroiled in a conflict. Third, it serves as a legal document if a situation escalates to litigation.
  2. Conduct formal training sessions for all organization members regarding how to follow the conflict resolution process. Most people avoid confrontation like the plague. Most of your staffers have no idea how to have a healthy face-to-face discussion with someone who has offended them. Include lots of examples and plenty of role-playing, and season it throughout with humor. You’re trying to create a comfort level for honest conversations.
  3. Model healthy conflict resolution among the physicians and senior management. Make sure everyone attends the learning sessions - including physicians. If a physician believes he or she is “above” such nonsense, it will weaken your program substantially. If physicians refuse to confront one another about behavioral or procedural issues in a healthy way, and - worse - if they vocally complain and berate one another behind their backs, your staff will never comply completely with the new plan. If you have a bickering bunch of employees who never work as a team, implementing a new policy like this could provide you with an access point in the cycle of bad morale. It might well give you the chance you’ve been looking for to turn things around. If you have a pretty healthy team of workers already, you might consider adopting this policy as a preventative against future trouble.
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