Conflict is inevitable. Particularly when you’re managing a team of very busy (and oftentimes, very stressed) veterinary professionals.
The good news is that conflict doesn’t have to be a nightmare to deal with. In fact, if handled with care, it can actually do wonders for team relations, making the team even stronger than before.
In this article, we cover some of the common causes of conflict that can occur in practices, and give you some recommendations on how to handle these moments like a relationship management pro!
Common Causes of Veterinary Conflict
Every single veterinary professional (or adult for that matter) has to deal with some form of conflict in their lives.
More often than not, in a veterinary setting, these situations can arise due to disagreements with colleagues, clients- or quite possibly both.
According to Wendy Jureski, a veterinary practice manager and researcher from Jacksonville, USA, the most common causes of veterinary conflict are:
– Bad teamwork
– Poor communication (or lack thereof).
– Poor workplace culture (specifically, a lack of behavioral policy or enforcement).
– Passive-aggressive behavior
– Poor working conditions
In bad situations, it’s not unheard of for practice employees to take prolonged periods of leave (if not quitting entirely) to avoid work toxicity.
It’s incredibly important, therefore, to have some sort of procedure in place to address workplace conflict effectively- before it escalates into a full-on crisis.
How To Handle Coworker Conflict
The problem with dealing with co-worker conflict is that oftentimes it can fly under the radar. This can happen for several reasons.
For one, many employees don’t really feel comfortable ‘venting’ to their managers, as it can reflect badly on them, so neglect to raise the issue in the first place. Many managers or owners also tend not to see these dynamics in play as they are often ‘out of sight’ and therefore ‘out of mind’, and rarely directed towards them.
Some of the early signs of workplace conflict include:
-A drop in team morale
-A decrease in team participation
-The development of an ‘us vs. them’ culture
-Greater avoidance of certain team members
-Increase rates of ‘sickness’ 
Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to resolve it.
1. Deal With The Situation Head On
While conflict resolution can be awkward, burying your head in the sand won’t make it go away. If anything, it’ll make it worse.
If confrontation isn’t really your thing, just remember that by turning a blind eye to the situation, the only thing you’re doing is letting bad feelings fester. This will make your job a lot harder, so don’t ignore workplace drama- even if it seems like the easy thing to do.
2. Bring People Together
It may be tempting for inexperienced managers, owners, or directors to pull feuding team members aside to get ‘their side of the story’.
But the problem with this is that it can actually create more tension between teammates, who are, in essence, being further polarized from one another.
Bringing individuals together, therefore, can be a far better way of addressing conflict.
3. Put Down Some Boundaries
It’s good to establish some ground rules before you enter any resolution talks.
Rules such as: not interrupting each other, not raising voices, etc, are essential if you want to have a productive conversation. This is also the time to review and make all parties aware of the behavioral code rules if you have them.
The number one thing you want to do is allow each person to clarify their perspective without interruption. Doing so in a way that is consistent with your cultural code. Minimally, this means everyone is civil to one another.
4. Highlight Common Ground
While it’s absolutely fine to agree to disagree, ideally, you want both sides to come away from the conversation with a sense of commonality.
Try to find common ground throughout the conversation to help each party meet each other in the middle.
If the situation is particularly volatile, consider having a mediating third party who gets along with both co-workers.
5. Be Empathetic- Even If You Don’t Agree
This can be really hard- especially when you are personally involved in a situation.
But no one- absolutely no one- has ever changed their perspective when being attacked.
So try and utilize some emotional intelligence and empathize with everyone involved.
You may have to compromise (or even apologize) to reach a mutual agreement. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for some but is absolutely essential to allow forward progress .
6. Work Towards a Positive Work Culture
In order to avoid any more crises in the future, leaders should do everything in their power to create a positive working environment.
Creating a good work culture will take commitment to do the right things repeatedly over time, but thankfully, due to research we recently published, the way to do so is quite clear. This research found that if leaders work on four specific areas in their practice an improved and most likely excellent culture is achievable. These actions are:
– Making more time for leadership objectives
– Creating a set of practice values
– Tackling workplace toxicity
– Honing in on recruitment and retention processes
You can read the full study here to learn much more on this subject.
The Bottom Line
Confrontation doesn’t have to be a negative experience, and with the right tools, it can help build trust and resilience within the team, instead of breaking your people down.
If you want more advice on how to deal with workplace conflict, check out our complimentary webinar linked below. This webinar covers the common mistakes leaders make in practice, and how to deal with them effectively.
1- ‘5 techniques to help you manage conflict in your veterinary practice.’ 31 Aug. 2017, https://vetsuccess.com/blog/manage-practice-conflict/. Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.
2- ‘Strategies for managing conflict within a team | The Veterinary Nurse.’ 5 Aug. 2019, https://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/10.12968/vetn.2019.10.6.292. Accessed 8 Oct. 2021.