10 Nov 2017  •  Practice Management, HR & Employment Law  •  4min read By  • Zoe Close

Advice for managing personality conflicts in a small team

Zoe Close, Area Sales Manager at Practice Plan, uses her 14 years’ experience as a practice manager to share her guidance on how to tackle personality clashes in the workplace…

Managing personality conflicts is one of the biggest challenges in business, but it is key to creating and maintaining a happy and productive workplace. It is almost unavoidable for any business – particularly those with a small team as many dental practices are, not to have some level of conflict.

There can be many reasons for conflict to arise. For example, when staff feel another team member’s poor performance or attitude isn’t being addressed. Change is another catalyst as some employees find it difficult to adapt to new situations, or a change in line management, such as a peer being given more responsibility.

“The worst thing you can do as a manager is ignore a toxic relationship within the business”

Dealing with conflict, and avoiding it in the first place, invariably comes down to the line manager, normally the practice manager. The worst thing you can do as a manager is ignore a toxic relationship within the business, which often occurs as they are concerned about overstepping the mark and blurring the boundary between professional and personal relationships.

When to intervene

I think well-trained managers should be able to develop a better understanding of how and when to intervene. Informal measures are a good starting point, such as asking if they need help to resolve the situation and what they have tried to do so far. A really healthy and helpful approach is to empower and motivate them to settle the matter themselves, if they are happy to do so, with some coaching from you. However, it is crucial to check back and see what has happened.

If the situation cannot be resolved by the parties concerned then a practice manager should take control. The first step should be to speak to each person individually about what the issue is, before bringing everyone together for a dialogue. When people are uncomfortable about a situation – whether it’s those directly involved or the manager trying to resolve it – they often resort to communicating via email, but it is important to invest time in face-to-face conversations.

People not feeling listened to is another reason for conflict, so it is important in these conversations (and day-to-day in the practice) that everyone feels that their views are heard and accepted. Empathetic listening, the ability to truly listen without jumping in, is therefore a vital skill in resolving conflicts.

The ability to reflect things back to people using positive re-wording is also key. For example, you will often hear a negative statement like ‘He never listens to anything I say!’ The reframing might be ‘It is important to you that he understands what you are saying’. This acknowledges the problem, but gives it a positive emphasis, and it often helps both parties to hear messages in a different way.

Reaching a resolution

Resolution takes time, trying to rush can often end up making it worse. It’s a delicate process and it’s important to determine what the real issue is. Often, it’s not what is being argued about on the surface that is the actual conflict, and there may be a more serious problem or underlying issue. You need to allow the people involved to speak and feel listened to in a safe environment where they feel they can open up. One way to approach this is to have a dedicated area and/or person that staff know they can go to air these types of grievances. This will ensure conflicts aren’t bottled up, which can lead to them escalating out of proportion.

“Resolution takes time, trying to rush can often end up making it worse. It’s a delicate process and it’s important to determine what the real issue is.”

If the issue cannot be resolved it may be necessary to separate the parties involved, if possible. But every effort should be made to prevent and address conflicts as different personalities, if handled correctly, can strengthen a team by contributing different ideas and solutions.

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