Avoiding Conflict Can Hurt Your Practice

The right approach to handling conflict can breed creativity, innovation, teamwork

Avoiding Conflict Can Hurt Your Practice

Most of us recognize that conflict is inevitable in any workplace, but I’m amazed by how many people choose to avoid addressing conflict in their practices. They think they’re doing the right thing, but in most cases, they’re hurting their practices.

Avoiding Conflict Can Hurt Your Practice

Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes. You can have conflict over ideas, you can have conflict over expectations, and you can have conflict over personalities and styles of communication. When handled well, all of these conflicts can result in positive results for your practice.

Avoiding Conflict Can Hurt Your Practice

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t avoid conflict:

Avoiding Conflict Can Hurt Your Practice

1) When you avoid conflict, you miss opportunities to improve your practice

There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy conflict over a particular issue. Perhaps you have one idea on working with customers or handling records or investing in new equipment, and someone on your staff has another idea. Sometimes the third idea ends up being the best idea — but you won’t find that third idea without having a conversation about the “conflict.”

Some of your best ideas for improvements will emerge when you have consistent staff meetings — and when I say “staff meetings,” I mean meetings that are truly led by the staff. Let a staff member plan and facilitate the agenda; give your staff a platform to identify issues and discuss solutions. Make this meeting about the staff, not the doctor preaching to the staff.

Make sure you’re given a slot at each meeting, but use your time to recognize people’s efforts. Thank them for their ideas, and point out how the practice has improved because of their input. You may even want to have special times of recognition where you hand each employee a $ 50 bill as a way to say thanks. One of my favorite times was when we took all of the staff to the mall in a limo, gave them one hour to spend a certain amount of money on themselves, and then at dinner had everyone show off what they had bought.

2) When you avoid conflict, you bypass a chance to address problems

Do you have an employee who habitually arrives late or has inconsistent patterns of arrival? Many doctors turn a blind eye, especially if the employee is otherwise effective. But avoiding the conflict of confrontation can make things worse.

Directly address the issue and look for possible solutions. “Our office opens at 8:30 each morning, which means I need everyone to be here and ready to start working at that time. Lately, you’ve been inconsistent, and that’s just not part of what you agreed to do when you took this job. If you can’t be here, I need to know why and see if we can work around the challenge.”

If you don’t have this conversation, your other employees will become resentful because you’re cutting this one person a little slack — or they’ll decide to test the boundaries, too. If have two or three people disregarding a policy or expectation, you’ll run into big problems.

And if your conflict is between two staff members, play the essential role of mediator. Help them find a solution, and encourage them to maintain a healthy working relationship.

3) When you avoid conflict, you rob your life of the added color that comes from other perspectives

Many practices are broken up because of poor communication skills, lack of ability to negotiate, and the failure to reach answers by consensus. You need the input of your team members. You need their perspectives. And you need to genuinely listen to them.

If the people who are offering suggestions don’t ever see their ideas put into place, it stifles their willingness to raise their hands and share an idea. Avoid running a practice where everyone has to think exactly the way you think — you need other people’s perspectives.

So the next time conflict emerges within your practice, see it as an opportunity for growth. Don’t avoid the conflict; embrace it and all the benefits it can bring when handled properly.

DO YOU HAVE a story of how you handled conflict in your practice and it resulted in a positive result? Or maybe it was a time you handled it poorly — but you now know a different approach you’d take? I’d like to do a post in a few weeks sharing some of these conflict stories from other people’s practices. Send me your story at walt@walterwest.com for consideration. I always enjoy hearing other people’s stories!

Dr. Walt West combines his 27 years of private practice experience with a business philosophy and management style that reveals the fundamentals of owning, managing and leading a successful private practice.  As a leading expert in Practice Management, Dr. West has presented to professional audiences in 16 countries on 5 continents. He is the published author of “When Your Success is on the Line” and the creator of the program “Pulse Points of the Million Dollar Practice.”

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