When you experience conflict with an outside source like a patient, a payer, or the hospital you can turn to colleagues, physician owners, and even staff for support and to debrief with afterward. It may even feel like ‘us against the world’ sometimes; sharing small victories together can build a stronger team spirit. However, when the conflict comes from within the practice, it threatens to break down all that you’ve worked so hard to build. Practice leaders are often put in sticky situations trying to keep everyone on board and tempers from flaring.
Unresolved conflict can cause anxiety and angst in your practice; staff performance and cooperation is reduced, morale begins to plummet and the patient experience is compromised. To navigate through staff conflict successfully, remember these tried-and-true tips:
- Take a realistic lay of the land: This means accepting that there will likely be two-sided compromise in order to find a realistic solution. Help the opposition to understand your perspective as you seek to understand how they arrived at their position.
- Dig deep: Often some of the information you need to understand in order to propose creative and realistic solutions is not being presented. By asking open-ended questions and doing a lot of listening and probing you can find out what people really want, what’s really bugging them and what might be negotiable after all.
- Don’t lose sight of the facts: It can sometimes get tricky to stay impartial and business-minded while trying to balance being a great place to work. We all want a flexible, friendly and supportive work environment but when practice administrators are drawn into emotional stories they can make poor decisions with unforeseen consequences. Protect your practice and your emotions by being reasonable while keeping facts in the forefront. Seek comparable data from sources like Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Professional Association of Health Care Office Managers (PAHCOM), or local and specialty associations. Doing so will keep you objective and making wise decisions.
- Mission matters: To keep your practice on course, revisit your practice mission, goals and strategic plan. These tools will guide you in making decisions and finding solutions for opposing viewpoints by prioritizing overall goals. If you don’t have a practice mission or need to revise it so that it’s applicable, make this a priority for 2015 and call in an expert if needed.
- Remain Respectful: It’s not always easy to keep language and actions respectful but it’s crucial to making progress and remaining at the top of your practice game. This means no ‘silent treatment’, name calling, accusatory or inflammatory language. It also means leaders communicate clearly with staff about ‘next steps’. Take on a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect between any members of the practice and you’ll have an environment conducive to conflict resolution.
Acknowledging conflict is not solving it. As hard as it is to take the time and resources necessary to properly tackle an in-practice issue of this nature, ignoring it or over-reacting will only make it worse and cost you more in the end. It could cost you in turnover, a distrustful practice culture and a compromised patient service among other things.
If you find the situation to be unsolvable by those within the practice, you can call in an expert chosen by the nature of the conflict, accountant, conflict negotiator or practice management consultant. Don’t let a stalemate cause future damage, keep moving forward - you got this!