How to resolve team disputes and avoid conflict

Argument2Most conflict situations at work are caused by either misunderstandings or unfair, inconsistent treatment. Dental consultant Sheila Scott shares her expertise, so that, as a manager or a practice owner, you can work towards avoiding both of these situations.

Whilst out and about visiting my consultancy practices, I commonly hear scenarios of simple misunderstandings.

There are simple steps that managers or practice owners can take, as well as the rest of the dental team, to help avoid these situations. If your team can recognise misunderstandings then together you can all make the work place a happier and more productive place. Here are some things to consider.

Be fair

Your practice policies may pay great homage to fairness and consistency, but we all know it can be difficult when one team member makes a perfectly reasonable request for some special consideration. It can be easy to agree ‘just this once’, or ‘especially because she gives so much to the practice’. But do beware of setting the precedent.

At some point in the future, in the middle of a dispute, another team member may bring up this special decision as an example of favouritism (the opposite of which is discrimination of course), and you will have no defence.

Great managers always precede their decisions to the team with: ‘Would I say the same thing to Anna, or Mary or Joe or Uncle Tom Cobley and all?’.

Fail to misunderstand

For the non-grammarians amongst you, that is a double negative. In other words make sure you understand!

It’s not only disputes at work that are caused by misunderstandings – these are rife in all walks of life, including home lives, love lives and international relations.

The trouble is that human beings are almost programmed to protect themselves from attack – which means we’re almost too willing to spot an apparent slight – and we react with our ‘fight or flight’ reaction, which comes out as either defensiveness (including sulking) or aggression.

It’s almost like we’re lying in wait for the next apparent insult to wind up our own worst behaviour and interrupt the harmony of daily life.

So, slow down. There are always at least three possible reasons for everything every human being does or says – and we are all at the ready to react to just the most damaging one.

We could be wrong in our interpretation of why someone else said or did something, and if we take a moment to consider that, we can avoid a great deal of hurt and over – or needless – reaction.

For example, Lucy might have just slammed a door. Did she do that because:

A She knew you were concentrating and she just did it to annoy you?

B She had a difficult moment with a patient, and was letting off a little of her own steam?

C She didn’t mean to slam the door, but it happened just at that moment?

You may think you know the reason was A. But if you were wrong, you could be just about to go after her and confront her – and start a dispute – for the wrong reason.

For example, Linus may have just ignored you. Did he do this because:

A He doesn’t like you?

B He was concentrating on something else and didn’t register your question, or couldn’t break his concentration?

C He physically didn’t hear you?

How you’ve reacted with Linus in the last week may prejudice your interpretation of his behaviour – but bear in mind again, you could be wrong.

And can you think of other situations where you’ve ended up in conflict with someone because one of you jumped to the wrong conclusion about your intentions for behaviour or comments?

Three possible reasons

If you can practise stopping to think through the ‘three possible reasons’, you’ll find you’ll be reacting to those around you with more consideration and fairness – and you’ll find out more about what’s behind situations because you will have to start asking questions to find out which of the possible reasons caused the comment or behaviour to happen. You’ll be developing a great deal of emotional intelligence, and problem-solving abilities.

Once you’ve mastered this, share this exercise with your team, and ask them to practise it too.

You’ll find you have an increase in meaningful conversations, a huge increase in understanding and problem solving, and a lot less slammed doors and ignoring of each other going on.

Practice Plan is a specialist provider of practice-branded patient membership plans in the UK. It has helped thousands of dentists to become more successful and sustainable practices. If you’d like to know more about how Practice Plan could help you make a greater success of your practice, visit or call 01691 684120.

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