Eight Ways to Improve Staff Communication at Your Medical Practice

September 17, 2013

Every workplace has conflict. The goal is to find professional, respectful, and fair resolution. Here are eight ways to meet that goal in your medical practice.

A true Southern Belle that I have had the pleasure of knowing for over 40 years lives by the mantra: "Never underestimate the power of a well-timed hissy fit."

My readers south of the Mason-Dixon Line will know exactly what she means by a hissy fit. My readers above said line would probably know this as a "tirade" or "rant." Whatever you call it, it is a force with which to be reckoned. But it really should not have a place of prominence in the modern workplace. There are more professional ways to communicate and solve problems.

Here are some much better ways to resolve conflicts in the workplace.

1. Think. Before you bring attention to the problem, think about it. Ask yourself if it really is a problem or is it just a personal annoyance to you. Is it just a pet peeve of yours with no real bearing on the work being done? Does it adversely affect the quality of work being done? Does it truly impede your ability to perform your job? Does it interfere with patient care or put patients in danger? Does it open the office to potential risk or harm?

2.Practice good listening skills. Truly listening is not just hearing the words being spoken, but hearing and making an effort to understand what is being said. Poor listening is simply using the time the other person is speaking to think of what you are going to say next. Good listeners ask questions to clarify the speaker's meaning before jumping to conclusions. Listeners who really want to solve the conflict let the other person speak without interrupting and consider the pros and cons of what is being said.

3. Clear and concise communication. Start by stating facts. "When the patient's insurance information was not updated, it caused a problem for me because I was not able to obtain a pre-certification." Make your points succinctly; don't entangle them in unnecessary details.

4.Keep emotion out of the picture. Emotions play a huge part of our lives, but they can get in the way when it comes to problem solving. Make sure you have your emotions under control before you begin the resolution process so that you will be less likely to say things in anger that you will regret later.

5.Use specific examples. Be prepared to support your case with specific examples and avoid generalizations. If you are talking to an employee about their tardiness, have a list of the exact dates they were late and how late they were. Don't say, "You are always late," unless of course they were late every single day since they were hired and you can prove it. If they were 20 minutes late three days last week, then that's exactly what you should say.

6. Consider including a neutral third party. If the problem is a serious one or if you have reason to believe tempers will flare, a neutral third party is a must. Generally speaking it should be someone of authority within the company. A mediator can help keep the conversation focused on the facts of the issue at hand and help both parties see the other's point of view.

7. Make a plan. After each party has made their points, then everyone involved should work together to find a resolution. For example, recurrent tardiness could possibly be solved by compromising on a work schedule change. Failure to update patient information might be solved by additional training and utilization of electronic methods. There will be some resolutions which are not up for debate. For example, there is no excuse for harassment and/or bullying; they must be stopped immediately.

8. Set a date to follow up. Set a date for all the parties involved to meet back together to discuss how the issue is going. Ask and answer these questions: "Was the resolution successful?"; "Has the situation improved satisfactorily?"; "Is this a feasible long term solution?"; and "If there is not satisfactory improvement, what do we do now?"

In every workplace there will be problems that arise from time to time. Some will be resolved easily while others will require more work. A successful workplace is not one which is free of conflict, because this is simply not possible, but rather a successful workplace is one where conflicts are handled professionally, respectfully, and fairly. To do so requires time, patience and the willingness to truly seek the betterment of the office.