Conflict Resolution for First-Time Managers

The word "conflict" likely carries a negative connotation and stirs up feelings of anxiety along with images of angry people. But conflict isn't always a bad thing. Not only can conflict be productive — or dare I say positive — but it can be discussed in a way that doesn't leave participants feeling run over by a Neapolitan Mastiff.

When you're a first-time manager, conflict resolution can seem particularly daunting. In a veterinary practice, conflict often involves one's behavior and attitude. You will need to give employees feedback to restore acceptable standards of conduct.

The 'Rules' of Conflict Resolution

Luckily, there are two basic rules and a tried-and-true method you can follow to handle that first difficult conversation, and every one after it, like a pro:

  • Only speak about things you have personally witnessed. If you're speaking to an employee about behavior that you didn't personally witness, it's simply hearsay. Employees should try to work out their interpersonal issues first, and only bring it to management when reaching a resolution wasn't possible. (The exception to this rule is when an employee has a concern regarding illegal behavior such as sexual harassment, drug or alcohol use, animal neglect or abuse, etc. Such concerns should be brought to the attention of management immediately.)
  • Use "I" statements, not "you" statements. When it comes to addressing employees, it's important to use "I" statements to avoid putting someone on the defensive by attacking their character with a "you" statement. Imagine if your supervisor said, "You are lazy," as opposed to "I need to give you some feedback on the speed with which you complete tasks." Can you picture how differently you'd respond to each interaction?

Fixing the Problem

Now that we've covered the rules, let's look at the process for giving feedback:

1. Explain the problem as you see it. Be specific and use those "I" statements.

2. Describe the impact the problem is having on you or your organization. Use examples of specific situations or behaviors and describe the effect they are having. Remember, these must be things you've personally witnessed.

3. Ask the other person's point of view. This is an important step because it demonstrates respect for the other person and provides an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings.

4. Agree on the problem that needs to be solved. This is another chance to avoid conflict and ensure that all parties are working to solve the same issue.

5. Explore and discuss potential solutions. This allows collaboration and exploration of ideas that accomplish the end goal and make both parties feel supported.

6. Agree on what each party will do and schedule a follow-up. Ensure that each party understands his/her part in the resolution of the issue and schedule a time to touch base and see how the solution is progressing.

I highly recommend writing down your thoughts for each of the six steps above. This will help you stay organized and focused, even if emotions run high. Difficult conversations are always going to feel uncomfortable, but if you follow the rules and process the guidelines above, you'll get better at conveying confidence on the outside. That way, your employees will look to you as a leader within the practice.

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Katie Adams

Katie is a CVPM with over a decade of experience in the veterinary field. She has spoken nationally on best business practices, emotional intelligence, and conflict competence. Katie enjoys writing and has a regular monthly column in Firstline Magazine. She is most passionate about helping others.

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