5 techniques to help you manage conflict in your veterinary practice

10 min read

Conflict in the workplace – we all know it exists, but to what degree exactly? In August 2017 I went in search of answers and surveyed 225 veterinary clinic employees. What I discovered may or may not surprise you: nearly all respondents said they’ve experienced some type of conflict within their practice.

The conflicts that respondents referenced happened primarily between a) one technician and another; and b) between technicians and receptionists (front- versus back-of-house mentality). Clinic employees also admitted to knowingly participating in conflict-oriented behaviors, such as raising their voices, yelling, or giving the silent-treatment to co-workers. And 84% confessed to venting to others about conflicts they were involved in – otherwise known as gossiping!

What triggers conflict?

Based on survey results, the following factors are big contributors to conflict in the workplace:

  • lack of team work
  • miscommunication or lack of communication
  • passive-aggressive behavior
  • lack of clear policy
  • lack of policy enforcement
  • poor working conditions

How does conflict impact practice success?

Now that we’ve covered the triggers, let’s take a look at the cost. But first, a couple of findings from my study:

  • 22% report having called in sick to avoid conflict
  • 23% report leaving one clinic for another to escape conflict

According to the Center for American Progress, the cost of replacing an employee is close to 1/5 of that employee’s annual salary. If your practice experiences a turnover rate of 10 employees a year, each with an average salary of $25,000, then the cost of replacing them could cost you upwards of $50,000. What’s more, Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Accountability, says that each conflict that goes unaddressed wastes about eight hours of company time in gossip or other unproductive conflict-oriented behaviors.

In short, conflicts among staff members can have a big impact on overall productivity within your clinic, not to mention a huge, negative impact on your revenue.

5 effective conflict management techniques

While it’s human tendency to avoid conflict, avoidance does more damage than harm in the long-run. Here are some techniques to help you manage conflicts within your veterinary practice.

1. Build a culture that encourages positive communication.

Ask your team for feedback and ideas, and encourage them to give honest opinions in a professional manner. This teaches honesty and transparency, two useful communication tools. Allowing unpleasant yet accurate feedback to be a part of these conversations helps create a safe and trusting environment while reducing the risk of future conflict.

2. Assume positive intent, and don’t jump to conclusions.

By assuming positive intent, we create an environment that garners forgiveness and can diffuse a situation quickly. It’s important to stop problematic behavior before allowing it to escalate, but equally important to ensure you have a full understanding of the situation. The trick to this technique is to not show favoritism towards any employee while still maintaining an attitude of positive intent.

3. Don’t use email or text messages to address conflict.

It’s time to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Even if you’re not directly involved in the conflict, you may have a strong aversion to any confrontation required in order to deal with it.. Still, it’s important to address all of these issues face to face, and give undivided attention.

4. Remind employees that teamwork comes with the job.

There are few if any roles in a veterinary setting that do not rely on teamwork. Learning soft skills such as teamwork and relationship building are beneficial to everyone’s success in this industry.

5. Pick your battles.

Before you dive in to save the day, assess the battle at hand. Small workplace conflicts often resolve themselves. If you jump into every situation, people will turn to you whenever a problem arises and won’t learn how to deal with issues themselves. Get to know your employees and monitor situations to determine when intervention is needed. Here are a few situations that definitely require intervention:

  • Employees are threatening to quit
  • Disagreements have become personal
  • Respect is being lost
  • Conflicts are impacting team morale

Earlier in this post, I shared a list of conflict triggers. It’s important to keep in mind that these triggers aren’t actually the root cause. Many conflicts start when workplaces fail to foster a positive environment that ensures all staff are being treated fairly and respectfully. That’s not to say there aren’t problematic individuals (there’s usually always at least one who stirs things up) but these individuals themselves aren’t the actual cause; rather, they’re just bringing the true cause to light. Training both managers and staff in professional communication and behavior, as well as teaching them how to communicate their issues constructively, will prevent most conflicts from occurring.

Harmony or conflict – what does your veterinary practice foster?

Conflict rarely arises suddenly. It emerges over time, and when it does it can have a big impact on practice revenue, client retention and more. With VetSuccess Practice Overview Reports (POR), you can easily spot when key performance indicators are down. If you notice a decline, or if you’re noticing frequent absenteeism, low productivity, staff disengagement, low morale and/or poor retention, it’s time to think about improving your practice’s ‘bottom-up’ feedback processes and paying attention to the culture of your workplace.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at [email protected].

Wendy Jureski, CCFE has worked in veterinary medicine for more than 20 years. She is the business manager at a small veterinary practice in Jacksonville, FL. She is also a Social Media Manager for a website design firm that supports clients in the veterinary industry. You can reach Wendy at [email protected].

Jureski, Wendy

Jureski, Wendy

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