5 Strategies to Cope with Office Staff Who Don’t Get Along

Interpersonal dynamics among employees can be one of the most difficult things to manage as the head of a successful plastic surgery practice. No matter how much everyone likes each other and works efficiently together, inevitably interpersonal conflicts will arise. Someone will eat someone else’s lunch, a birthday will be missed, or someone will unthinkingly make an insensitive comment. All of these things can create a conflict that can make work difficult for everyone.

When conflict occurs, it’s best to nip it in the bud quickly by having a meeting with the people involved, to sort out the issue. But what if you have two employees on your office staff who genuinely dislike each other?

Imagine this scenario

Joan and Amanda both have positions in a plastic surgery practice and must often work closely together. From the moment they first met, there was just a mutual dislike. Joan finds Amanda to be loud, arrogant and a know-it-all who has to have the last word, no matter the topic. Amanda finds Joan to be a gossip, overly dramatic and occasionally lazy.

Whenever the two find themselves working in close quarters, sparks tend to fly, both sides feeling that the other is antagonizing them, leaving everyone else in the office feeling awkward about the entire situation. What steps could a doctor take to resolve their mutual animosity and help restore harmony to the office?

Open communication

From the outside, you might not know the complete story of what’s going on between the people in conflict. Before taking any drastic steps to resolve the situation, have a sit-down meeting with each individual separately. Explain that the situation between them is starting to make everyone in the office feel uncomfortable.

Don’t assign blame or order them to stop it. Either of those actions could just make them dig in their heels. Instead, listen to what they have to say and let them vent a little if they need to. Be sure to document everything that’s said in the meeting.

Sometimes, individual meetings can be enough to fix the problem. Being called out on their behavior can make Amanda and Joan a little more self-aware and help them avoid conflict in the future.

Of course, resolving a conflict with just one round of private meetings might not be enough. That’s the best-case scenario. What if Joan and Amanda continue to fight, even though you asked them to be more aware of how their behavior affects the office?

Team meeting

If conflict continues, it might be time to call the people involved into your office together to talk about the problem. Don’t have the meeting just by yourself. If you have an HR representative or office manager, have them be there as well. Again, be sure to document everything that is said in the meeting. Talk about their problems and see if there are any solutions or arrangements you can make to help them resolve their issues. Let each of the two have their say, without the other jumping in. Never takes sides, as that would only make the issue worse.

Make it clear there are consequences

Assigning consequences to continued conflict can be challenging, but necessary. It’s a difficult balance to strike. You want to be understanding of both sides, and you want to help them come to a mutually acceptable solution, but you also have to make them aware that there are consequences to their actions.

Joan and Amanda are making everyone in the office uncomfortable with their fighting, and they are going against your practice’s policies by creating a disrespectful working environment. Inform them that if this doesn’t stop, both of them will be written up and disciplinary action might need to be taken against them.

Don’t choose sides or assign blame. Just make it clear that this kind of behavior isn’t going to be tolerated. This is a medical practice, not primary school.

Help create a plan to minimize conflict

If necessary, you can help Joan and Amanda figure out ways to minimize their conflict in the office. If their face-to-face conversations tend to be tense, see if they can do more of their communications through email. If one keeps stepping on the other’s toes, clarify each one’s responsibilities so they know the limits of their jobs and don’t overstep their bounds into the other’s territory.

Let them work it out on their own

Funny enough, people often dislike it when others try to solve their problems for them. Joan and Amanda are adults and deserve a chance to work it out for themselves. You can help create an environment for them to do this. Perhaps offer to pay for them to go have lunch together. Give them a little extra time so they don’t feel pressured to get back to work. Tell them to figure out some strategies during their lunch to move forward and improve their relationship.

Amanda and Joan don’t need to like each other; they just need to be able to work together. The funny thing is, even though you can frame it as a free lunch, the reality is that the two of them will probably be working harder during that lunch than any other time during the day!

Taking charge

Part of owning and operating a plastic surgery practice is managing your staff, and that can actually be one of the trickiest parts of the job. By keeping lines of communication open, listening to concerns and not taking sides, you can help create a working environment that’s welcoming, engaging and able to handle and resolve conflicts like the one between Joan and Amanda. 

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