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Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Conflicts are a part of life. Direct, open communication about conflicts is a must. And yet, it can be one of the most challenging aspects to address in our work environment. The inability to have crucial conversations in healthcare is concerning, as it could directly relate to medical errors, patient safety, quality of care, staff commitment, discretionary effort, employee satisfaction and turnover. Common areas in healthcare where crucial conversations seem the most difficult can involve broken rules, micromanagement, mistakes, lack of support, incompetence, poor teamwork and disrespect.

Rules of Engagement

Put the issue on the table rather than the personality. By this, we mean focus on the problem rather than the other person involved.

Consider this scenario: My boss (or colleague) did not invite me to a meeting where key decisions would be made about a project in which I’m involved. I want to be there and have my opinions heard. I have a couple of ways to react in this situation:

  • Focus on the Person: Keep telling myself that he does not respect my opinions, does not value my input, or perhaps that he is too busy to be thoughtful about key decisions.
  • Focus on the Problem: Consider that there may be a reason that I was not on the invitation list. If so, I’d like to understand that reason, so that if there is some way I could change the decision, I can. Or if change is not an option, I can share my thoughts with someone I trust to represent them at the meeting.

Choosing to focus on the person leads to further dissatisfaction, negativity and lower productivity. Focusing on the problem is more effective.

Setting the Stage

Consider these strategies to set the stage for a productive conversation.

  • It probably goes without saying that conflict resolution conversations are best conducted without a large audience. Look for a private location and invite only those involved to the discussion (yourself, your conflict partner, and perhaps your trusted advisor who will serve as facilitator).
  • Work to ensure that emotions are in control. The height of a conflict, when anger, frustration, or embarrassment is in full force, is not the best time to reach a satisfactory resolution.
  • Sometimes time alone is enough; other times, talking through the situation helps. Allow the individuals involved time to decompress for the best outcome.
  • For some, physical activity is a good mood-altering strategy.
  • Humor can be an effective antidote.

Source: Huron Consulting Group Inc. and affiliates.

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