• Sara Gouveia

Managing Conflict


Dealing with distressful situations

How to avoid conflict in our professional lives?

No matter how experienced we are as veterinarians, conflicts are something that often will come across to our professional lives. These conflicts can arrise from various situations, some of them being due to unclear job roles, miscommunication, inadequate training, lack of equal opportunities, poor work environement, bullying and harassment.


My storie:

When I was working in Portugal, at a local practice, there used to be frequent conflicts of miscommunication. Simple things that easily lead to more severe situations.

As a small team, we were very busy and often organisation, specially regarding the patient’s records, would often be left behind. This causes issues to the vet that will further follow-up the case. He/she will have no clue what has been done before and why.

Another situation I often felt was the unclear roles. I used to find myself doing the job of a doctor, a receptionist, a nurse and a stock manager. At the end of each day my brain was melted!

Besides the monthly earnings, this, I believe, is another main reason why so many vets in Portugal avoid working in the countryside, in small locations, and instead, they try to apply to bigger corporations with more staff and better resources and time schedule.

Still, conflict, disputes and disagreements are a part of daily life.


How to identify conflict and what it’s causing it?

Before a conflict develops, people might begin to feel unhappy at the work place. The feelings of low motivation, low productivity and behavioural changes might arrise, and sometimes there might be sickness absense due to depression and stress.

According to ACAS – Managing Conflict at Work, the reasons that often generate conflict are:


Trying to achieve agreement within an argument
  • Strong differences of opinion over work

  • A clash of personalities

  • An “overspil” from personal issues outside work

  • Rivalry between collegues

  • Our changing needs and expectations

  • Ignoring common values

  • Unresolved problems from the past

  • Increase in workload


How can we manage and avoid these conflicts?

Conflicts can cause a lot of distress and frustrations, lack of sleep, illness or other issues. Some of them might be inevitable but there are strategies we can learn an implement in order to reach mutual agreement and more effective relationships.

Several sources, like the ACAS, VetLife and Katherine Graham, mention some of those strategies:


Be positive

  • A positive environment creates positive relationships

  • Positivity will make it more difficult for others to behave badly towards you

  • And positive people are better placed to deal with stress, anxiety and challenges


Identify the cause of conflict

  • Listen carefully and show interest in the other person’s point of view

  • Assume that they are doing their best and not trying to hurt you

  • Be solution focused – aim at the problem, not the person

Effective and Respectful Communication

Communicate respectfully and effectively – Treat people as you would like to be treated

  • Don’t generalise (“when I get things wrong – you always shout at me…”)

  • Instead, communicate how you feel (“when you shout at me in front of the staff, I feel humiliated”)

  • And try not to pull out past complaints. If possible deal with the situation at hand


Don’t get involved in emotional manipulation

  • Some people are used to get their own way by using emotions

  • It may cause resentment and lead to arguments or blame shifting

  • When this happens give the other person some space, walk away and then return at another time for a calmer approach


Consider possible outcomes and pick up the one you want

  • Ask for what you need, respectfully and politely


Apologise, or ask for an apology if appropriate

Look at your part in the matter – you may feel justified in being upset but what was your part in the conflict?

If you need an apology to move forward you may have to ask

The use of personal warmth can dramatically move things to another level


Make and ask for a commitment to future actions or behaviour

  • When both people feel a resolution has been reached, there has usually been some commitment from each to future action or behaviour

  • It shows that even though you are upset and feel the message could have been delivered better, you did hear the message

  • Use kindness and empathy, but stick with it even if the conversation feels forced or uncomfortable


Learn from the interaction

  • What did you learn about yourself from the conflict?

  • Is there anyhting you should change?

  • What can you learn about the systems, policies and operating procedures of the practice that could be changed to avoid this type of conflict in the future?

  • Is there any training necessary?


Healthy workplace relationships are essential to the success of any workplace. Share your experience with us and give guidance to others in dealing with their own conflicts.



What type of conflicts do you often encounter? And how is usually your approach?


#commitment #communication #conflict #distress #kindness #positivity #respect #struggle

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