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Physicians: Improve Communication and Avoid Conflict


While conflict is unavoidable, your practice can benefit from these five practical tips to prevent it from escalating.

Faced with staffing shortages, stiffer regulatory burdens, and lower reimbursement, physicians are experiencing increasing levels of anger, frustration, and stress. This can negatively affect the way they communicate with colleagues. Moreover, strained relationships and poor communication in a healthcare environment can compromise patient safety and negatively impact patient satisfaction.

Conflict is unavoidable. One of the keys to navigating and addressing workplace conflict is effective communication. Here are five practical tips to improve interpersonal communication and enhance inter-professional relationships within your medical team:

Start your day with a team huddle. Before patients arrive, gather the team to review the schedule, discuss difficult cases, and plan for potential crises before they arise. Allow team members to ask questions and contribute. Keep the meetings under seven minutes to be respectful of everyone’s time and to keep it focused. Not only is this an efficient use of time, it’s also an ideal opportunity to set the tone for the day.  

Find an accountability partner in your practice. Physicians greatly benefit by having a trusted teammate in the workplace who can both champion your efforts and offer useful feedback.  While this person might be a peer physician, a nurse or a physician assistant can provide a non-physician perspective to situations. The accountability partner can help by addressing potential areas of conflict or point out interpersonal cues the physician might have missed. Talking through these issues with a trusted colleague can enhance self-awareness and foster personal growth.

Own up to mistakes and make amends. It’s important to accept responsibility during a time of conflict. A face-to-face apology with a colleague earns respect and can prevent small conflicts from escalating. It’s best to avoid apologizing over email or text, which can be misinterpreted and seem less sincere. It’s also helpful to offer a solution to the problem and agree to revisit any concerns that may arise to avoid similar conflicts in the future.

Give credit where credit is due.According a survey by VitalSmarts, three-quarters of the non-physician healthcare workers surveyed experience some level of perceived disrespect by physician colleagues. Offering a “great job today” and sharing credit shows respect for co-workers’ time and talent. It also establishes you as fair. A respectful work environment reduces the potential for conflict and can increase morale.

Slow down. Physicians often have heavy workloads and it doesn’t take long before fatigue and stress sets in. Building in as little as ten minutes each day for downtime can actually enhance productivity by improving focus and reducing stress levels. Listening to music, meditation, and diaphragmatic breathing exercises are helpful relaxation techniques.

Elizabeth S. Grace, M.D. is the medical director of The Center for Personalized Education for Physicians and is a board-certified family physician. She can be reached at

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