Episode 5: Navigating Conflict in Healthcare

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Join host Lillian Liang Emlet and healthcare HR consultant Gillian Faith as they unravel the complexities of conflict resolution in healthcare settings. Explore practical strategies for regulating emotions, fostering trust, and promoting healthy communication within teams. Subscribe for insightful discussions on transforming conflict into opportunities for growth and collaboration in healthcare.

Lillian: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Transforming Healthcare Coaching podcast, where we bring you guidance and coaching perspectives so that you can level up in your life and work.

 We want healthcare to be different. As coaches, our goal is to help healthcare, clinicians, and leaders to thrive.

I’m your host Lillian Liang Emlet and I am joined each week by our incredible and diverse team of energy leadership coaches and guest speakers to bring you coaching perspectives, to expand your awareness and inspire you to action. We believe that by empowering each individual within the healthcare community, we can create a ripple effect of positive change. 

I’m super excited to have you with us today, Gillian primarily because of there’s so much conflict and issues with employer employee relations, especially since so many of 

Lillian: us are employed by large healthcare organizations. [00:01:00] Jillian, can you tell us a little about yourself? 

Gillian Faith: Hi, everyone. My name is Gillian Faith and I’ve worked in healthcare in both Scotland and in the U. S. I currently live in Colorado and my background is in rehabilitation services, both clinical and leadership positions. This was very satisfying work after 15 years and due to some burnout and an inherent interest in people, management and organizations, I found myself in the human resources field.

I’ve also studied management and I became certified as a professional coach. I’m a mother to a son and two daughters, and I love challenging workouts and spending time in nature. Coaching for me is about partnering with individuals, teams, and organizations. And I love to see the shifts in thoughts and feelings, which then lead to new and better behaviors and more success.

I choose to work in healthcare as I love supporting our trusted leaders and clinicians who work to build high [00:02:00] performing teams in complex organizations. I get satisfaction from helping clients gain awareness about how they show up as a leader and also figuring out next steps in building their teams and meeting their goals.

Lillian: What are some of the main causes of conflict that we can see that you are experiencing as HR consultant?

Gillian Faith: Yeah as you say, conflict’s inevitable in all organizations. Healthcare is especially complex: it’s fast paced, it’s ever changing, uncertain, stressful, emotional, and all these things lead to various conflicts, and conflicts any situation in which people have incompatible goals, interests, principles, and it’s associated with a negative emotional state in one or both parties.

We all have to remember that conflict itself is not necessarily always negative. From conflict we can get different points of view. We can reach breakthrough ideas or new strategies. We can gain wider [00:03:00] perspectives or build stronger relationships. And sometimes conflict can have a mix of both positive and negative impacts.

We can look at the causes from a personal perspective, and also from an organizational perspective. Personally, people bring to work their personalities. We talk about personality clashes. People have mental or physical health struggles. They have personal life struggles and they have different values and points of view.

From an organizational standpoint, people are dealing with heavy workloads, both physically and emotionally. There can be inadequate or strained resources, conflicting priorities, different communication styles, leadership deficiencies, dysfunctional teams, and there’s change. Change is everywhere. Changes in policies, protocols, expectations, and transitions.

And I think in healthcare, there’s a lack of the proper channels and support to help people with resolving conflict [00:04:00] and providing that emotional safety. But healthy conflict or disagreements communicated in a supportive environment that foster the generation of new ideas or tension that can increase awareness or shed light on a growing problem.

Lillian: Yeah, no, I totally agree. It’s really hard, I think, with the pace 

Lillian: of what is 

Lillian: happening, in every shift, and then to be able to take a step back and take a breath and actually get other maybe potential stakeholders who aren’t actually in the heat of the moment to be able to weigh in so you can make a balanced, reasonable, decision for the group is often pretty challenging.

And so people really feel that sometimes, you just wish you could snap your fingers and fix things, but that doesn’t necessarily happen. And I do think it’s, we don’t realize the toll emotionally that the situations clinically are occurring that causes people to snap a little bit.

And then you regret it later when you’ve gotten some sleep and maybe you’re not the end of your shift . So easy to fall into that trap and accidentally, make a not so great [00:05:00] decision or say something unkind. So what do you see from a unit based work group cost of conflict and then from a unit based the implications for the larger hospital or healthcare system.

Gillian Faith: From a unit based, if you look at the negative emotions, hurt, isolation, frustration. resentment, anger, there can be withdrawal from situations, relationships, there can be lowered cooperation, there can be blame, criticism, judgment of self.

So all these things obviously create negative energy and don’t help everybody get the job done. And if we look at the figures in the U. S., there’s 85 percent of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree. And in the U. S., employees spend roughly three hours a week dealing with conflict, which actually equates to something like 350 billion in paid hours.

And this is across all industries. And that can be anything from, [00:06:00] rewriting sensitive emails. To having lengthy discussions with people. And 25 percent of people say that the avoidance of conflict resulted in sickness or absence from work. And I will add that conflict never really leaves a team in the same way that it found it.

The team’s always going to change. It can be a negative way. They can be they can lose connection. It can also be positive. A team can become closer and have more understanding. 

Lillian: Yeah, I just think about how well we came together for the pandemic in terms of creating the protocols and setting up the unit, and then as we continue to evolve throughout the several years after the pandemic that’s when some of the issues began to occur, right? The issues with changing policy and making sure that everybody’s voice or opinion were heard or not heard, and the rapidity for how things needed to be decided. And yet also, as things continue to change that it was almost change fatigue. 

Gillian Faith: Oh, definitely. 

Lillian: And when you’re 

Lillian: coaching [00:07:00] leaders who are trying to navigate this, what types of things do you normally talk about in terms of how to deal with the emotions and the stressors of the leaders, with uncertain information and the rapidity of how quickly they have to make a decision for the group that may actually have implications. What kinds of things do you review with your clients.

Gillian Faith: Yeah, so there’s a few different things in terms, we’ll start first of all with regulating emotions. I usually work with clients and, it’s a space that we create. It’s a confidential space, so it lets them talk about things freely.

On a kind of a one on one level, having a trusted peer or a mentor, can be really a huge thing when it comes to conflict because you get to get things off your chest. You get to look at different perspectives. Look at how critical you’re being on yourself or others and how to reframe things and how to reframe circumstances to try and find a positive way forward [00:08:00] and move the action forward.

In terms of regulating emotions, I try to work with people to look for the good in others and assume that, people did not intend to cause harm. Also being self aware of emotions and how to be able to control those, are very important. And like you say Lillian, sometimes, in the moment when there’s an emergency situation going on or a complex situation going on it’s very hard to do that.

But afterwards, perhaps there’s a conversation with certain people on the team to, debrief and to, explain or to find a way forward. 

Lillian: Yeah. It’s really interesting that all of this emotional intelligence and the ability to recognize in yourself, the emotion is really sometimes very challenging, and I actually was just thinking of certain colleagues where sometimes I feel like they actually try to avoid any kind of conflict, which is also not healthy because we all actually do need to feel the joy and the frustration of working together . Whether we learn [00:09:00] together, we practice together, we decide things together. Having just the ability to be able to say those things to each other is also pretty important. But there has to be trust, I think too. And I’m curious, like what you feel like the interplay of emotional intelligence and awareness of each person versus a co created trustworthy environment. How important are each of those factors? 

Gillian Faith: So if you’re in any kind of leadership position, trust is extremely important. That’s one of the most necessary leadership traits in order to have a high performing team. And emotional intelligence, one of the pillars of emotional intelligence is navigating relationships, and empathy is huge there.

Having empathy is one of the most valuable leadership traits. Some people have more than others. And it’s all about having awareness around relationships and other people’s needs. I have been told this can be learned. So very important, and you mentioned avoidance: [00:10:00] avoiding conflict doesn’t actually help.

Sometimes avoiding it will help at the time because it’s not an appropriate time to bring up an issue. But conflict is better when it’s actually handled and when people have the skills to handle it in a mature, in a productive manner.

Lillian: Yeah, now I just think about certain people who’ve been able to tell me very bluntly certain things about either how I handled myself or how I made other people feel and I actually hold them in so much appreciation.

And it can, it might feel yucky for a split second like peeling off a bandage very quickly. And at the same time, you know that comes from a place of, I guess, love and respect to some degree when people are able to be able to say a hard thing to you so that you can actually make the course corrections necessary and give you greater awareness as compared to those who may not actually, continue to avoid saying anything to save face actually doesn’t help either party or the team.

In terms of non acknowledgement [00:11:00] of what everyone else can not everyone else, maybe some people in the room can emotionally identify with in terms of a problem of how either someone behaved or of how we might make another person on the team feel.

Gillian Faith: Yeah, and you have to be brave and have some level of confidence in order to speak up sometimes.

But one of the, biggest skills is the listening skills and acknowledging and validating. And you can do this with somebody without actually agreeing with what they’re saying. You don’t actually have to agree with their emotions or their perspective or their feelings about something, but to say, I understand that this situation is causing you stress.

If I can help in any way, let me know. Just saying something like that, lets people know that they’ve been heard, that they’ve been valued, and it really helps open up a conversation. In healthcare, there’s not always a time, or it’s not always appropriate to do that at the moment, but perhaps going back and speaking to somebody [00:12:00] later and letting them know that you acknowledge or you validate what they think or thought.

Lillian: Yeah, I think it’s a great point. And I think this, I call it the “neutral observation” that this is just really hard for all of us; that this is not easy in general if there’s a particular situation, and also that it can just be frustrating, like all of it is not ideal. And also: we’re going to be able to take care of it. Because I think people are also very proud of the fact that they can take care of and rise to the occasion. I think most healthcare workers are hardworking and really want to just do the right thing at the right time. And when they can get refocused potentially on that’s their ideal state, then they can actually hopefully identify with it.

Gillian Faith: Yeah, for sure. 

Lillian: So sometimes, there’s conflict going around in your in a particular shift is simply a combination of certain people who are working that day. And for some people, they’re very positive. Some people are extremely just negative. I think whenever they just show up for their work [00:13:00] environment, Do you have any tips for helping neutralize this sort of oil and water group how to manage when people get into frustrated mini little spats or mini disagreements. Is there any way to help handle that in a healthy way? 

Gillian Faith: So a lot of that I feel comes from the manager or the leader and kind of a culture that they’re promoting. And in addition to that, training is very important. Even if people get an out of training and how to, approach conflicts that can help them, especially those people that are negative and don’t really know how to handle these things. Having the mindset that viewing conflict can be a positive thing, where collaboration. or compromising, may actually result in something better or a healthier relationship. That is a tough one, you mentioned the oil and water. Hard to get right. One other tip I would have is to use I statements, I observed that you did this or I feel that [00:14:00] you’re taking the blame out of it if you’re approaching somebody and talking with the I statements.

I would also say people benefit from using more curiosity, it again takes the emotion out of situations. Can you help me understand why you did it this way, or are you open to a different perspective on this treatment or this protocol? 

Lillian: Yeah, I love the curiosity. It’s funny though, I do think that sometimes we definitely don’t tap into our curiosity at two in the morning.

Whenever you get frustrated with how your colleague is working or not working to help the group. And I guess what I also wonder is, you had mentioned the leadership training. Can you expand a little bit on terms of what leadership training often looks like in different organizations?

Gillian Faith: In terms of conflict it would be, recognizing: what’s causing conflict? What can you do as a leader to develop positive approaches to conflict? And how can you empower your team? If you can empower your [00:15:00] team to deal with things as they come up without any escalation, then that’s great.

There’s also assessments, there’s different assessments you can use looking at different leadership styles and communication styles. There’s 360s, there’s DISC, there’s conflict management style assessments. I think for leaders, one of the biggest thing is having the awareness. So that they can be proactive and they can help coach their staff.

Lillian: That’s true. It’s so rare that I feel like the leaders often put on their coaching hat and sometimes they’re always, they always feel like they’re putting out a fire, right? Some report, some answer, some email, some solution, some protocol to fix rather than getting curious and acknowledging their whole team for where they’re at.

And it’s just partly the focus on the deliverables, like in, in healthcare for many leaders can be really challenging. 

Gillian Faith: Oh, absolutely. And in, the coach training that you and I both went through, we talk about [00:16:00] anabolic and catabolic energy, and the anabolic energy is the positive, the energy that you have when you’re working in your flow; and the catabolic energy is the stuff that pulls you down and is draining.

With some coaching clients, it’s about looking at, when does that catabolic energy come up and how can you make the shift so that you stay in there for as little time as possible.

Lillian: Yes. But that actually leads me to my last question. How does working with a coach as either a leader or as a frontline clinician: how does that help your clients deal with the conflict that they’re seeing?

Gillian Faith: Yeah. So as a leader, a coach can help you understand your leadership style and how that impacts your team for performance and any conflicts that may arise. We can also look at how to develop the positive approaches to conflict and how to empower your team.

Your coach can role play situations with you. Sometimes role play can be very helpful, especially if there’s, if it’s an important [00:17:00] situation or if there’s a lot of anxiety. On an individual basis, your coach can help you see different perspectives. Your coach is a confidential partner and a sounding board.

Sometimes it’s really nice to have a sounding board, and you can’t always find that on your team. Coach can help you understand your communication styles and areas for improvement or development. And again, back to raising your awareness. And we can help you reframe judgment and criticism of yourself and others, so that it turns into something that’s more productive and can move the action forward.

Lillian: I love that. That’s a really great summary of all the different ways that coaches can help leaders, especially with conflict, which I think is definitely a huge energy drain whenever we experience things.

Thank you so much for listening to the Transforming Healthcare Coaching Podcast. If you found this episode interesting or useful, please share this with your friends and colleagues in healthcare, and we will love it if you hit subscribe so that you never miss an [00:18:00] episode. Leave us a review on wherever you are listening to us.

It means a lot to us and we actually read every comment. Also, we want to help with the topics and problems that you want us to talk about. Email us with suggestions, feedback, and praise at podcast@transforminghealthcarecoaching.com. If you want deeper support for your life and work as a healthcare clinician and leader, head over to transforminghealthcarecoaching.com and see how we can partner together to meet your goals. Download your copy of our free five reflection questions to jumpstart your journey as you level up in your life and work and get on our email list. Be the first to know about our coaching programs and what’s coming. Together, we can transform healthcare, one person at a time. 

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At the core, our hosts believe in the transformative power of coaching to elevate healthcare professionals’ lives.

At the core, our hosts believe in the transformative power of coaching to elevate healthcare professionals’ lives.

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