Managing employee turmoil in any workplace is never fun or easy. And in the fast-paced, high-stakes industry of healthcare, where time is precious and lives are at stake, dealing with interpersonal conflict can be even more challenging.
Difficult as it may be, managing conflict is a time-consuming but necessary task for physician leaders. The ability to create a constructive balance between respectful behavior and holding people accountable has a direct impact on the success of a healthcare organization.
Indiana University Kelley School of Business professors Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow and Julie Manning Magid addressed the topic of managing conflict in healthcare during their workshop for the Women in Medicine committee at the Indiana State Medical Association annual convention. “Courageous Conversations: Confronting without Conflict” provides a blueprint for physicians to begin solving workplace issues respectfully, quickly and directly.
Westerhaus-Renfrow notes that the “courageous conversations” model is conflict-free, simple and effective, thus eliminating the need to square off and battle to resolve differences.
“Managing conflict is time consuming, which is why many physicians don’t do it,” says Westerhaus-Renfrow, a senior lecturer in management who teaches negotiations and conflict resolution at Kelley Indianapolis. “In the old-school model of medical school, there wasn’t a lot of push on developing interpersonal skills. Doctors were taught how to talk to patients, and many are just now learning how to talk with their coworkers.”
The interactive workshop gave physicians the opportunity to assess their confrontation styles and assess what kind of active listeners they are. Physicians who attended the workshop not only learned the difference between conflict and constructive confrontation; they also obtained a greater understanding for using their organizations’ mission, vision and values during conflict resolution.
“This workshop is geared toward giving people the tools to do different things with their careers,” says Magid, an associate professor of business law. “Whether that’s moving up in management, doing things outside of work or exploring entrepreneurial things—it all involves negotiating to get where you want to be.”
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, leaders in today’s healthcare marketplace must create and maintain a corporate culture where the best and brightest diverse minds work together to meet consumer demands.
And changing reimbursement models, where patient satisfaction will be a component of how much a healthcare organization is paid for its services, will also influence the need for cooperative care. Patients who sense conflict among clinicians are likely to rate performance lower, regardless of how well the person’s medical situation was managed.
“A well-functioning hospital is one where staff members are working well together and where managing conflict is done at a minimum because you don’t have it. Those are the hospitals that will do really well under the Affordable Care Act,” Westerhaus-Renfrow says. “Patients pick up on conflict and stress. They are likely already in a stressful situation just having to be there, so that’s the last place you want to experience conflict or stress among the workers.”
And though conflict may be more common in large health organizations that employ thousands of individuals, private practices and specialty medical groups are not immune to turmoil among staff members. In fact, Magid believes it can be more damaging in those smaller organizations if not handled correctly.
“I think it can be more pronounced in smaller organizations because there is less structure,” says Magid. “Once the structure breaks down, it can result in more free-for-all.”
Adds Westerhaus-Renfrow, “Conflict slows down efficiency and expertise, because you’re focusing more on the conflict than you are on what you’re hired to do. It can be destructive no matter what size organization you’re in.”