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July 10, 2018
February 3, 2017

Dealing with Staff Conflict? Top Tips to Prevent and Alleviate Conflict in Your Practice

Monica Dixon Perry

According to Merriam-Webster, conflict is defined as “competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: an antagonistic state or action (such as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons) or a conflict of principles”. With that being said, we are faced with many conflicting events professionally and personally throughout life. As managers and owners, you will have no domain over the conflicts that affect your employees' personal lives. However, when conflict arises among your team, making sure they are resolved sooner than later is imperative.

If your practice has a chronic problem with staff conflict, this is a great time of year to start fresh. My goal as a consultant is to prevent conflicts from arising within a practice. Here are 3 easy tips that can be incorporated into any practice.

1. Set expectations

During the initial interviewing or on-boarding phase, establish and articulate that employees will be treated as professionals and expected to conduct themselves as such. Let the applicants and new hires know there is zero tolerance for gossip, work-place bullying, or the evitable front against the back divide that plagues many practices.

When you make it clear this type of behavior will not be tolerated from the onset, you are making a concerted attempt to prevent this ugly monster from showing its face.

2. Promote a team environment

Although management structure and organization charts are recommended, it is equally important to create a culture within the practice that cultivates appreciation and empathy for all. I recommend cross-familiarization. As a part of on-boarding or phase training, every new hire will be scheduled one full shift in each department so that they can become familiar with the ins and outs of that department. When a receptionist observes a dental from beginning to end, they will better understand why scheduling eight dental procedures for one day will be taxing for the technicians. They will understand that scheduling four ADR appointments back to back will not have the doctors and techs singing their praises. Technicians who spend time at the front desk will better appreciate the challenge of non-stop ringing phones while receptionists are still expected to check people in and out. They will also witness how waiting or frustrated clients speak to and approach the front desk team and therefore can be more sensitive to receptionists coming to the back to inquire as to when someone will be up to check in the waiting client who is now tired of waiting.  

When you allow team members to walk in the shoes of other team members, they are more receptive and empathetic to what their co- team members go through and experience day in and day out. I find this to be one of the most successful efforts to bring a team together if there is a divide. Although recommended for new hires, you can plan for all employees go through cross-familiarization regardless of their length of employment.

3. Empower employees to resolve conflict on their own

If conflict does arise, despite all of your efforts, let employees know you are not a babysitter. Stress to them that if conflict between employees has gotten to the point it is negatively effecting the practice environment, they will be expected to come to a meeting of the minds or they may no longer be able to work at your practice. Even if it means treating them to lunch so that they can work out their differences, do so. But let them know they are not to come back to the practice until their issues have been resolved. If two adults cannot come to an agreement to put their differences aside or agree to disagree in the interest of the practice, they may have to seek other employment.

When you voice to your employees that you understand that many tasks and responsibilities come with managing and owning a practice, but you will not allow managing staff-conflict to be added to that long list, they will understand that you will not put in any energy or time into an area that takes away from focusing on your practice’s goals and mission.  

Set Expectations and Avoid Conflict

Whether you are dealing with new employees or those already employed by you, setting the tone and expectations is imperative. Starting out on the right foot is a straightforward approach with new hires. With established teams, you may have to make a general statement about wiping the slate clean and starting anew. It is important that your team knows what is expected of them and that you clearly set and enforce boundaries that will not compromised. Let them know that while they do not have to be the best of friends, they are expected to work together as harmoniously as possible.

Want the very best in practice management training? Attend one of Monica Dixon Perry, CVPM's Principles of Veterinary Practice Management seminars in an area near you.

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