Conflict Resolution – A Must Have!

September 20, 2017

Death, taxes and conflict – all are inevitable. If you’re like most veterinary professionals, you probably prefer death and taxes over conflict!

According to the article, How to deal with workplace Conflicts(1), human resource managers can spend anywhere from 24 to 60 percent of their time trying to resolve workplace conflicts.

You may believe that “tiptoeing around” and avoiding conflict will make it go away. Think again! Avoiding conflict makes it worse.
• 22% say they’re putting less effort into their work due to conflicts at work.(1)
• 28% have lost work time in their attempts to avoid confrontations.(1)
• 37% are less committed to their employer because of a hostile workplace altercation.(1)
• 48% of employees report that they have experienced abusive behavior at work.(2)
• 60% have claimed that conflict between members of their veterinary team was a problem.(3)
• 92% of veterinarians, practice owners, practice managers, technicians, receptionists and assistants say they have worked on a toxic team.(4)

If these sound like challenges you deal with, then you are obviously not alone.

Conflict doesn’t just affect the people either. “Animals can sense tensions and become more fractious as a result.”(4)

It’s important to educate yourself on interpersonal skills and reach out for help when needed. Workplaces that accept differences, understand attitudes and encourage open dialogue offer safe environments to bring conflict to light.

Identify if You are at Risk
Does your employee handbook outline how grievances are to be handled?

HR Acuity(2) offers a quick five question assessment:
• Do you know how many employee relations issues your organization handles annually?
• When allegations of misconduct arise, is there a consistent process that is used across your organization to conduct investigations that are compliant, comprehensive and “court ready?”
• In the past 12 months, have you assessed the capabilities of your HR investigators?
• Upon receiving a request for information on an employee matter, can you retrieve the relevant files within 24 hours? Are you confident in their contents?
• Can you ensure that remedial actions are delivered consistently across your organization?

If you answered “unsure” or “no” to any of the above, your HR policy could be at risk.

Planning for Success
When veterinary teams are given the same procedures and policies to follow, there is a sense of continuity and respect. Giving the team tools to succeed is essential.

Team members should understand the grievance policy and process. They should be encouraged to speak with their co-worker first, before going to a supervisor. This allows for them to come up with cooperative solutions.

Open dialogue and following the process as outlined in the Employee Manual is imperative. If you are unsure of how to tackle your manual, click here for assistance.

Look Within
How you deal with conflict is solely your responsibility. Ask yourself, “What role am I playing in this drama?” You are in control of your own reactions to the situation. While it is easier to blame the other party, inner maturity occurs when you “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”(5)

Here are some ideas in understanding or managing conflict:

• Pick your battles. Determine if it’s even your battle!
• Identify the issue. Is it conflict or just miscommunication?
• When processes are done “differently” that does not mean the process is “bad or wrong.” It is OK to have differences of opinion, it’s how people handle it.
• Use neutral language. Use “and,” not “but.” “But” is a way of avoiding and blaming. “And” is a way of investigating and accepting.(6)
• Check in with co-workers on a regular basis.
• Practice active listening by focusing on what the other person is saying. Don’t form conversations in your head while the other person is talking.
• Examine your personal integrity. Are your values and behavior out of alignment in your workplace?(6)
• Writing down the conflict can be a powerful tool and can help you look at the situation objectively.

By facing and managing differences directly, it is possible to decrease tension and negative emotions. You may see positive results in reduced stress, improved job satisfaction, and increased trustworthiness among co-workers.

“Giving and receiving feedback is uncomfortable at first. The solution: Learn good techniques and do this often so it becomes part of the practice culture. In work environments where feedback is continual and appropriate, most people expect and welcome the opportunity to improve,” states Dr. Smith in her book, Team Satisfaction Pays.(7)

Always keep in mind that it is the behavior or inadequate tasks that are the focus of change, not the person. While having a conversation, be sincere, be attentive and be honest. Do not lay blame but focus on uncovering the truth and fixing the problem.

Pick a private, neutral place to discuss the problem. Ask open ended questions and give the person time to digest the question and respond.
• What really is the issue?
• How can we find common ground?
• If nothing changes, what are the future implications?
• What can we do so this problem doesn’t occur again?
• What is our ideal outcome?

Mediation as an Option
Some situations are so emotionally charged, that a facilitator is the only option (either a neutral person from the team or someone from outside of the hospital). A mediator’s main role is to offer common ground in order to help the people communicate with each other and come up with a solution.

Conflict, like death and taxes, will occur. However, if left unchecked, it can have serious consequences for both people and animals. Bring your concerns to light! Take an active role in managing conflict quickly and as best possible. By seeking appropriate resolutions and offering safe environments for conversations, it will lead to a positive culture, content team members and overall hospital health and wellbeing.

Yours in Conflict Resolution
Rebecca Rose, CVT


1. How to deal with workplace conflicts. Harvey Mackay. 2013.
2. 18 Surprising Employee Relations Statistics. Debbie Muller. 2014.
3. Conquering Team Conflict. Katherine Bontrager. Veterinary Economics. 2005.
4. Full disclosure: This is What Happens on a Toxic Team. staff. 2017.
5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen R. Covey. 2004. Free Press. New York.
6. Confront the Elephant. Shawn G. McVey, MA, MSW. Firstline. 2008.
7. Team Satisfaction Pays, Organizational Development for Practice Success. Dr. Carin Smith. 2008. Smith Veterinary Consulting and Publishing.