Conquering Team Conflict

February 2023 |

With division comes dysfunction. Here’s how to meet in the middle.

Veterinary hospitals are not immune to conflict, and that conflict comes at a cost. According to the Center for American Progress, the cost to replace an employee is about one-fifth of that employee’s annual salary.

So maintaining a stable team by reducing turnover is important to a practice’s profitability. Even more important, says Megan Brashear, BS, RVT, VTS (ECC), “if our team is not functioning, we ultimately provide poor service to our clients and our patients.”

As Senior Veterinary Nursing Manager at Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in West Lafayette, Ind., Brashear is well versed in mitigating conflict. “When we have issues within our team—whether it’s between individuals or entire groups—the damage is magnified when clients and patients get caught in the crossfire,” she says.

Brashear offers these tips for controlling conflict:

Know Yourself. What’s causing the conflict? “You need to understand who you are and how you interact with others,” Brashear says. “Ask yourself: Am I an introvert or extrovert? What makes me angry? What’s my communication style?”

Use a tool such as the CliftonStrengths Assessment or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to determine what people are best at, how they like to communicate and more. “These types of tests help people understand why someone annoys them, and why they might annoy others,” she says.

Talk It Out. Brashear’s best advice for when you need to have a difficult conversation with a teammate who’s driving you crazy: Do it, but do it right. “Don’t mutter something snide as you’re walking by a co-worker in the treatment area,” she says. Instead, take 20 minutes to sit down and talk it out.

For managers, Brashear stresses the importance of asking questions, especially in a disciplinary conversation, and showing empathy. “I don’t care how angry you are, ask the employee how things are going,” she says. “You may well learn that a new staff member is feeling confused and overwhelmed, or that someone is having personal problems, and that will change the tone of your conversation.”

Help When You Can. Much of the “front versus back” conflict in veterinary hospitals stems from the “that’s not my job” mentality. That’s why Brashear recommends cross-training. “The front desk doesn’t need to learn how to place a catheter, but they should learn enough so they can pitch in during busy times,” she says, and that can be as simple as wiping down an exam table. Likewise, clinical staff should understand how to check clients in and out. “I once worked at a hospital where the chief medical officer folded laundry all the time,” Brashear says. “If a criticalist can fold laundry, then I can probably answer the phone.”

Assume Good Intent. One way to keep the notion top of mind is to gather your team and ask them why they come to work each day. “It’s pretty valuable to say it out loud because we kind of get away from it sometimes and think we’re the only person with truly good intentions,” she says. “We all have different backgrounds and different life experiences, but our goals in coming to work are the same, so let’s figure things out.”