Workplace conflict is unavoidable, so it’s vital that healthcare executives learn how to resolve and manage diverse perspectives to create a high-performing organization. Here are 11 expert tips on how to manage conflict.
“Conflict is not inherently negative; it flows naturally from having diversity,” says Natalie M. Thigpen, vice president, marketing and communications, Summit Health Management. “Since I believe diverse perspectives are critical and absolutely necessary to arrive at the best solutions for complex problems-managing team conflict is an essential skill to master for high-functioning teams.”
Laizer Kornwasser, president and chief operating officer, CareCentrix, a manager of post-acute services, says that “Conflicts are part of human interaction, so it’s important not to shy away from them but rather promote open, honest dialogue that, in the end, will always help the company thrive.”
For 11 ways to can manage team conflict, click the slideshow above.
Step into counselor mode. “I do a lot of re-stating and re-phrasing to help each side see the other point of view-not as a ‘contradiction,’ but as an alternate perspective that might help us arrive at an even better solution,” says Thigpen. “When this fails, which it sometimes does-ego is healthy, but sometimes non-constructive-I make an appeal for professional respect and trust. Worse-case scenario is that we’ll choose one path over another, be proven wrong, and learn something along the way.”
Tune in to the company culture and environment. “There’s no one strategy for managing team conflict, but there are important guidelines: keep the conflict professional, define the goal and allow for a healthy debate on how to get there, create a basis of trust with no ramifications, and center the discussion around facts,” says Kornwasser. “Additionally, to be successful in resolving team conflicts it’s important for managers to know the personalities of those involved and listen carefully to both the tone and the content of the discussion. A manager is not a mediator, but rather a leader who knows when to make decisions and when to turn it over to the team … it’s important to recognize the pros and cons of each position so that employees feel heard.”
Have effective one-on-one meetings. “Most companies are good at business meetings and status updates. But there also needs to be time on the calendar for employees to talk with their leaders about more than just work,” says Kevin Ricklefs, senior vice president of talent management, CHG Healthcare, a healthcare staffing company in Salt Lake City. “Regular one-on-one meetings-driven by the employee, rather than the leader-not only help create trust, but give an opportunity to share and address issues before they become problems.”
Lead by example. “As simple and obvious as this may seem, it is incredibly difficult to avoid office politics when in a position of power,” according to Cheryl Nagowski, senior director, federal markets, D2 Consulting, a life sciences consulting firm in Chesterfield, Missouri, offering both strategic and tactical commercialization services to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device manufacturers.
“Even when we attempt to hide that tension, staff are incredibly attuned to a host of indirect cues that reveal our reality. ‘Walking the talk' and navigating difficult interactions with poise will set a certain standard and tone for what is expected from others in that operating environment."
Get in front of the problem. “What are we waiting for? People often ignore the first signs of conflict because they are busy doing their jobs and/or hope the conflict will go away on its own,” says Camille Khodadad, a labor and employment attorney for Much Shelist, a law firm based in Chicago. “Often, not only does the conflict not go away, but it escalates until it reaches a boiling point. By the time you get there, team dynamics may not be salvageable. Rather than address conflict when it has reached a crisis level, acknowledge conflict when it first appears. Only when conflict is acknowledged can a leader take the steps necessary to address it.”
Recognize the benefits of conflict. This includes enhancing creativity, developing closer relationships among teams and managers, and giving those involved an opportunity to grow and learn from each other, according to Kornwasser. “Conflict can also grow and strengthen a company, as it offers managers the opportunity to celebrate and appreciate employee differences-their different points of view, personalities, and backgrounds,” he says.
Embracing productive conflict is useful, according to Ricklefs. “Conflict doesn’t have to be a negative thing,” he says. “Productive conflict happens when you involve the team during the decision-making process. More opinions-especially those that are diverse and even conflicting-lead to better decisions.”
Know your limits. Healthcare executives may be tempted to handle all team conflict internally without the involvement of outside counselors, but they need to carefully evaluate each situation, according to Khodadad. “Executives should immediately seek assistance from human resources, in-house counsel, and/or outside counsel when the conflict involves potential legal issues, such as violations of wage and hour laws, allegations of discrimination or harassment, or alleged violations of other federal, state, and local laws,” she says.
Redirect when tensions are high. Activities that focus on shared goals and objectives can help staff reconnect and reestablish trust with each other, according to Nagowski. “Even introducing a new party to the situation may serve to ‘reset’ the team dynamic,” she says.
Use digital health management platforms to reduce communication barriers. “Features like text to speech, incorporation of multimedia elements for different learning styles, 508 compliance, and even real-time machine translation of messages between patient and care team can all promote accessibility and successful communication,” says Elaine Goodman, MD, MBA, associate chief medical officer for Wellframe, a healthcare IT company based in Boston.
Remain neutral and demonstrate compassion. “Egos run high in the workplace, and nowhere is this truer than in healthcare,” Nagowski says. “Tremendous talent pools are trying to collectively make decisions that will often affect lives. These unique dynamics can serve as a breeding ground for emotional involvement in business. Leaders should remember that every conflict is a loaded situation and respond with empathy and a wiliness to assist in resolution.”
Foster an environment where ideas are respectfully exchanged. Disagreement among team members can be a positive thing, but we don't often think of it that way, says Khodadad. “Teams that freely and openly exchange diverse ideas tend to produce more successful, innovative, and creative results,” she says. “The clash of ideas can lead to that ‘spark’ that fuels the advancement of a team's goal. Train your team on how to effectively consult about work issues and solutions. Effective consultation involves creating a respectful environment where members can safely contribute their ideas with the goal of advancing the team.”