Tackling Difficult Conversations with Practice Staff

Nov 20, 2018 | Healthcare, Leadership Library, Management

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes at medical practices, from periods of high employee turnover to liability concerns to patient satisfaction. Of all the daily challenges faced, there is one that stands out as particularly unpleasant: the difficult yet required conversations that take place with staff members. These topics can be related to performance, errors in clinical care, negative interactions with other staff members, inappropriate situations with patients, etc. The thought of addressing these conversations can be so stressful for leaders that they’d prefer to avoid the conversation altogether because it’s so uncomfortable. 

After all, difficult conversations include: opposing perspectives, triggered emotions, and high stakes. Recognizing this allows us to establish a strategy toward a happy ending.

An experienced leader recognizes that the problem will persist longer than it should if not addressed, so let’s discuss how to turn a difficult conversation into a positive outcome with the following four tips.

1. APPROACH it with positive intentions and communicate those intentions clearly.

Effective leaders want their staff to be successful. Starting the discussion with good intentions and set a positive and reassuring tone. Express your concerns in a way that shows you are bringing this topic up for the purpose of helping them learn and grow in their role.

2. Minimize threat.

Criticism is a difficult pill to swallow, especially in the workplace. No one wants to be chastised for their performance or actions, so in order to have an effective conversation, choose your words carefully. As mentioned before, one of the ingredients of a difficult conversation is triggered emotions. Let them know gracefully, with positive intentions, that you are bringing this topic to the surface for their benefit.

3. Tell less. Ask more.

Helping someone learn and change their behaviors involves two-way communication. Take the time to get their side of the story and dig into their perspective. Ask open-ended questions and give them the opportunity to share their knowledge and prove their potential. If you communicate genuine curiosity, you allow them to get a different view of themselves. Maybe they didn’t know what they did was wrong. Allowing them to recount their memories may help invoke change.

4. Focus more on the solution and less on the problem.

Spend most of the time asking questions, providing feedback, and focusing on the steps forward. Ask them how you can help them or what ideas they have to make improvements. Solution-oriented communication fosters a positive learning culture where people are more apt to engage in problem solving rather than complaining or blaming others.

Like any other professional skill, the successful management of difficult conversations takes time and practice before anyone can feel confident in it. Try these strategies and maybe you’ll realize those stressful conversations you dread and/or avoid can actually be valuable opportunities for your employee’s development, growth and commitment to the practice.



Clinical Account Manager

Nancy is a Kansas City native who is always looking to hire Nurses, Medical Assistants, Medical office professionals and others on behalf of her clients. When she isn’t working Nancy enjoys cooking, playing with her two dogs and when possible– scuba diving!

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