Stop the Conflict in Your Medical Practice

June 17, 2015

Squabbling among staff members can not only lead to bad morale, but can sour patients on your practice. Here's how to stop it in its tracks.

Squabbling among staff members is common in medical practices. It is more than just an aggravation for the physician. Patients are aware of the ill will and hate it. The squabbling leads some patients to trust certain staff members and insist on dealing with only them, which both decreases productivity and increases staff animosity. Dissension increases risk for the practice because staff members are not wholeheartedly supporting each other. It is a bad situation all around.

Stopping the fighting is simple. It requires only focus and consistent behavior from whoever is in charge. (I didn't say it was easy.) The necessary behaviors of the leader are these:

1. Ask about the desired outcome.

When an employee complains to you about a coworker, ask, "What do you want me to do with that information?" This will let you know the complainer's motive. If the objective is legitimate and for the good of the practice, she will be able to tell you exactly what she'd like to see done. If not, stop the conversation because it cannot lead to anything good.

2. Bring both parties together.

Don't allow one employee to complain about another employee without including both of them in a conversation. If you allow an employee to complain to you privately without facing the object of the complaint, you make all employees suspicious that you participate in gossip and have favorites among your staff. Effective leadership is impossible in that environment.

3. Make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.

Lots of dissension results from staff members interfering with one another's work. Maybe they have different standards for a particular task. Make it clear what your standard is, as well as the fact that you are the one who sets the standard.

4. Hold people accountable.

A major source of discord in any environment is subpar performance. Staff members who are allowed to complete work half-heartedly can cause ill will. Hardworking, conscientious staff members have to pick up the slack for these folks. If the good employees don't quit, they will grumble and complain as a way to deal with their frustration.

5. Praise in public, criticize in private.

The behavior you reward is reinforced. If staff members come to you with a disagreement or problem and are able to resolve it effectively, praise them. The rest of the office will get the message.

If a staff member is sniping or two of them are squabbling, publicly make an appointment to meet with them privately. Criticize the behavior and move quickly to developing a resolution. It will be a teachable moment for the rest of the staff, too, because you will have demonstrated that arguing will not be tolerated

6. Terminate any employee who insists on contributing to dissension.

It is actually rare, but there are people who are not willing or able to maintain a positive and supportive attitude. If you are certain that you have been faithful in creating a constructive environment by consistently exhibiting the first five behaviors, get rid of them. One bad apple really can ruin the whole barrel. Just be sure you know which employee is actually the rotten apple.

The bottom line is that no one but the actual leader can create and sustain a positive environment. In a medical practice, that has to be the physician. It is one of the few roles that the physician cannot delegate.