Handling Conflict in Your Practice

Matthew D. Beal, MD | Cara A. Cipriano, MD, MSc | Joshua C. Patt, MD, MPH, FAAOS, FAOA

November 12, 2020

During this troubling time in American history, it maybe important to discuss conflict management or probably better termed, conflict resolution. Are conflicts really fully resolved? Do all parties feel that they were well represented? Is there a sense of satisfaction over the resolution that was proposed and enacted? These are all questions we talk about when dealing with the problems that occur in the office or in the medical center. I think there are few critical issues we should discuss that may help you bring these conflicts into focus in order to have the discussion regarding possible management or resolution.

          Firstly, I do think there is a difference between conflict resolution and conflict management. The first implies the problem has been solved, the second means the problem is ongoing but being dealt with appropriately by all parties. In either case, the process usually begins with transparent and timely communication. Too many times, I have seen small problems blossom into full-blown four alarm fires in the department based on the rumor mill. When these problems are not addressed in open forum quickly, it usually becomes a game of telephone where each person telling the story adds a few extra details that may or may not be accurate. We ALL have to realize that we have potential bias that we bring to any problem and by adding this bias to the problem, sometimes we can make it worse. With that in mind, the first item to resolve a conflict is candid communication with all parties.

          Once all parties are seated at a table, it’s equally important to hear all sides, but also to actually listen to the critical issues. Listen for the specific OBJECTIVES of interest and then determine what KEY RESULTS each party will use to measure the success or failure of that given objective. Oftentimes, I will spend a significant portion of my time listening in meetings.  I try not to speak over, for, or through the other party in the discussion. At times, I will even repeat or summarize what I think the contentious issues are so that I fully understand the problem.

          At this point you’ve likely heard the majority of the information. Make sure that you separate the facts from the fiction. This can sometimes be difficult so make sure that your facts have merit. Once again, approaching conflict with the mindset that you want to improve things for all versus improving your own position. Oftentimes, the correct answer is a compromise where neither party is completely satisfied with the resolution (hence the term conflict management).  Once again, transparency is important. Certain aspirational plans may or may not be possible given the resources at hand. 

          Finally, I would summarize the objectives and the key results to measure the success or failure of the issue in question.  Additionally, explain the timeline necessary to resolve or manage the conflict. Establish checkpoints to make sure that both parties are still satisfied with the key results. Transparency, communication, leadership, and effective listening can lead most groups through conflict so that at minimum the conflict is managed as best as possible.

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Beal AAOS: Board or committee member, American Orthopaedic Association, Board or committee member, Medacta: IP royalties; Paid consultant; Research support, National Institute of Health (NIAMS & NICHD), Zimmer, Stryker, Mako Surgical: Research support, Zimmer: Paid consultant Dr. Cipriano KCI: Paid consultant, Link Orthopaedics: Paid consultant, Musculoskeletal Tumor Society: Board or committee member Dr. Patt American Orthopaedic Association: Board or committee member, North American Spine Society: Board or committee member.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2020 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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