10 Tips for Resolving Conflict in the Pharmacy

Inside: Conflict is inevitable in every business. Learn 10 practical techniques to successfully resolve conflict at your independent pharmacy.

Even in the happiest workplaces, conflict is unavoidable. Conflicts might arise among your employees, between staff members and patients, or with you and your business partners.

And conflicts may mean you have to dawn a new role—mediator.

This additional responsibility can be daunting—and even uncomfortable—but resist the impulse to ignore conflicts. With proper conflict resolution, any dispute can be an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve.

Resolving conflict quickly and smoothly is key to moving on from issues that distract you from helping patients and growing your pharmacy.

It also prevents your work environment from becoming toxic, which can poison your entire business.

“Unresolved conflict can break down even the best company culture,” said Samantha Reynolds, communications coordinator at Helpside, a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) that partners with small businesses to provide outsourced support in the areas of employee benefits, human resources, safety, risk management, and payroll. “Employees may take sides and feelings of resentment may grow, making the workplace an uncomfortable place to be. This could even lead to losing an employee or two.”

But conflict isn’t always negative. When handled correctly, conflict can help more than it hurts.

“Conflict can be a good thing, as long as people are being respectful,” Reynolds said. “You can learn a lot about someone based on what they stand up for. You don’t necessarily want everyone to agree all the time. Differing options and diversity challenge us to see things from a new perspective. Creating a culture of trust and respect will help conflicts be constructive rather than destructive.”

Use these 10 tips to successfully resolve conflicts in your pharmacy.

1. Stay calm

When people are upset, approach the situation with a calm demeanor. Remaining calm deescalates the situation and lowers the intensity among the arguing parties.

For example, if a patient is yelling at one of your technicians, interrupt them and calmly introduce yourself. This change in the tempo and intensity of the conversation can help bring the situation back in check.

During the conversation, use a soft tone and make sure to not raise your voice even if theirs continues to escalate.

If you find yourself becoming too angry to speak calmly, step away from the conflict until you can have a civil discussion.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Rosenthal, author of a book on the science of feelings, suggested three methods for diffusing your anger:

  • Soothe your body with deep breathing
  • Interpret messages in a positive way
  • Find distractions

Keep your cool to keep the peace.

2. Reach an understanding

When people fight, they stop trying to understand each other. Instead, they hunt for weaknesses in the other person’s argument or refuse to listen at all. Getting conflicting parties to understand each other is half the battle.

As a mediator, you can help disagreeing parties see the situation from the other’s point of view.

Ask each employee to explain the problem from the other’s perspective. Accurately stating each other’s point-of-view ensures a mutual understanding before moving forward with the conflict. Then they can deal with the legitimate issue at hand in a productive way.

3. Identify common ground

Conflicts frequently result from a misperception of motivation. One person believes the other is seeking self-gain and vice versa.

When this happens, the conflicting parties talk around and around the issue without any chance of landing on the truth.

Find common ground in the two parties’ perspectives and build off that foundation. For example, when a patient doesn’t receive her prescription when she expected it, start your conversation by acknowledging that you both want the patient to get her medication as soon as possible.

When you both know you have the same goal, you can move past the blame game toward a real solution.

4. Attack the problem, not the person

When conflict escalates, participants often start attacking the person instead of the problem.

Personal attacks intensify emotions quickly. Once that happens it’s difficult to corral the conversation.

One of the first tactics people often use in conflict is placing blame. Blame breeds resentment and build walls between the two parties.

Assessing blame is only appropriate when you’re searching for the root problem of the issue.

5. Ask the right questions

Not all questions are beneficial. Some come loaded with accusation or insinuation. Some avoid the problem. Others confuse the issue.

Asking the right questions helps hone in on the problem so you can reach a solution.

Avoid unhelpful questions, such as:

  • “What did you do this time?”
  • “Who’s fault is it?”
  • “Why won’t you stop screaming?”

Instead, ask questions that help bring clarity to the situation, such as:

  • “What’s the problem?”
  • “How can we fix it?”
  • “What can I do to help?”

6. Know your employees

Successful conflict resolution starts long before conflict arises.

The type of culture and relationships you cultivate daily determines the type of conflicts you’ll have.

If you get to know your employees before the conflict starts, they’ll be more open to hearing you out. When employees get to know each other, they’ll be more open to listening to each other.

And when you know your employees, you’ll understand how best to approach the situation.

“The more you know about your employees and their motivations, the better you can understand each person’s side when conflict occurs. This isn’t just related to work. Learn about your employees’ passions outside of work as well,” Reynolds said.

7. Pick your battles

As a pharmacy owner or manager, you can’t involve yourself in every disagreement in your pharmacy.

The most effective way to reduce unresolved conflict is to equip all your employees with the tools to handle conflict themselves. Train managers and employees you can trust to resolve conflict, so you can focus on running your business.

Learn to know when it’s necessary to step in and when it’s better to let your employees sort it out on their own.

8. Fix the root issue

Resolving the disagreement shouldn’t be the final goal.

Go a step further and make a plan to prevent the conflict from happening again. Maybe your pharmacy counter needs to be more organized so scripts don’t get overlooked. Or maybe your pharmacy needs formal guidelines for switching shifts to prevent confusion.

Creating systematic changes will prevent future conflict.

9. Be fair

The role of mediator requires impartiality.

Don’t favor one employee over another, even if one employee has proven more trustworthy than another.

Assess each situation on its own with complete objectivity, if possible.

If one employee feels unfairly treated, you likely won’t reach a resolution.

“One thing that often causes conflict in the workplace is a feeling of inequality,” Reynolds said.  “Be sure that your leaders are treating employees fairly.”

This starts long before the conflict takes place. Practicing equality in your day-to-day business will curb dissatisfaction and conflict. When employees get a whiff of partiality, you’re sure to encounter a dispute.

10. Create a standard procedure

Establishing a system for conflict resolution helps keep things consistent.

When you implement standard procedures for conflict resolution, you ensure conflict can be resolved no matter who’s involved.

You also ensure accountability for you and impartiality in your resolution.

A Member-Owned Company Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy-side of their business. Founded and run by pharmacists, PBA Health serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, wholesaler contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, and more.

An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products — offering the lowest prices in the secondary market.


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