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Mediating staff conflict in your optometry practice


For starters, I’m not a licensed psychologist, I just play one as a practice management consultant. It’s been my observation that whenever human beings come together in an environment where they are required to work together and interact, inevitably some tension and conflict will arise. Sometimes it’s relatively minor and resolves on its own. However; when it doesn’t resolve and starts to impact the morale and mood of the practice, sometimes leaders need to get involved. Some people in leadership positions avoid getting involved for fear of making matters worse. Below are some suggestions for mediating a conflict between employees who aren’t playing nice together.

A no blame zone!

Set one very important ground rule going into this meeting. There will be no blaming or finger pointing. The dueling employees can ONLY talk about how the situation is making him or her feel. For example, instead of saying “You’re always insulting me”, say “I feel demeaned and belittled when I’m reprimanded in front of other employees”. See the difference?

No need to agree.

Let the employees know that you’re not asking them to agree with each other. This will be great news to them, because nobody wants to be forced to shake hands and make up with someone they are very upset with. The goal of the meeting is simply to listen and try to understand the other person’s perspective.

Repeat back what you heard.

After one person has spoke about how they feel, ask the other person to repeat back what they heard. For example, “I understand that you feel insulted when you are publicly reprimanded”. Two important things happen here. First, it’s validating to hear the person you’re in conflict with acknowledge your feelings. Being dismissive of how someone else feels is a surefire way to prolong a conflict. Second, even though you do not have to agree with how the person feels, this may be the first time you’re hearing this and you may actually end up agreeing with (or at least better understanding) their point of view.

Explore reasonable solutions

Most conflicts are not based on the facts of the situation, they are based on our perception of the facts. When someone is showing hostility toward us or giving us the silent treatment, we make assumptions about the persons behavior. Instead of looking to a situation or event as the source of the problem, we look to the person. Once we truly know how the other person feels and why they are behaving the way they are, we’ve removed a lot of the speculation and we can move forward with solutions. Is it reasonable that any critical feedback directed at this staff member could be done in private? I think it is.

I can’t promise this will always work. Remember, these are humans we’re dealing with and sometimes bad feelings about another person can run deep. However; most the time I’ve recommended this approach the mediator reported a positive outcome.


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Steve Vargo

Steve Vargo

Steve Vargo, OD, MBA is a 1998 graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. After working in clinical optometric practice for several years, Dr. Vargo pursued his passion for practice management by earning his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Phoenix in 2008. A published author and speaker with 15 years of clinical experience, he serves as IDOC’s Optometric Practice Management Consultant. Dr. Vargo advises optometric alliance members in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations.