6 healthcare leaders on how to handle disagreements with colleagues

Healthcare leaders continually face major business decisions, whether it be financial, operational or clinical. However, not everyone is always on board.

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share what they do when they disagree with a colleague on a major business decision. Below are their responses.

Stephanie Anderson
Executive Vice President and COO of Woman's Hospital (Baton Rouge, La.)

"First, it is important to recognize that conflict in the workplace is not necessarily a bad thing. When handled appropriately, it can be healthy and have a positive impact on an organization's culture, enhancing trust among team members and resulting in improved decision-making.

"When I find myself in a disagreement with a colleague, I first strive to identify what each of us is attempting to accomplish in an effort to understand the other person's point of view and perspective. I then look for the commonalities in our positions to identify a solution that would provide mutual benefit. If that isn't possible, I attempt to reach a compromise by discussing it openly and brainstorming potential solutions. A collaborative approach always works best and generally results in the most creative solutions. To the extent possible, I try to identify where our interests are most closely aligned to determine how we can work together towards a common goal. Simply imposing what I want on my colleague is never the right approach. It immediately creates resistance and does not foster innovative solutions."

Marjorie Bessel, MD
Chief Clinical Officer of Banner Health (Phoenix)

"First, let me say that if you haven't experienced times when you and a colleague disagree on a major business decision, then you and your colleagues aren't having the right conversations. If it's a major business decision, there needs to be robust conversation from every angle for that level of decision. It's important for colleagues to bring their collective wisdom to the issue and do so in a fact-driven and respectful way. And then a critical element is that a decision is made and you and your colleague walk out of the room united in that decision and ready for the next go-around of robust conversation and disagreement."

Mary Blunt
Senior Vice President of Sentara Healthcare (Norfolk, Va.)

"Instead of focusing on the disagreement itself, focus on the 'how' and the 'why' which led there. If I can stop and listen for clues that point to the root cause of the disagreement, this offers perspective and insight into how my colleague reached his or her conclusion. I will then work to find a solution that accommodates their needs in a way that is best for them and the situation. If all else fails, I will share a story relevant to the situation and the process we used to come to a resolution."

Joseph Linn
Vice President of Operations for UnityPoint Health – St. Luke's Hospital (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

"First, I would respectfully listen to my colleague's opinion. Sometimes there is value in taking a brief pause on whatever the issue is to think about your colleague's perspective. There may be some areas of compromise on the issue or some points related to the issue that you were not fully taking into account. Further discussion with my colleague at a later time might also prove to be helpful. Given our administrative team's approach to operational issues that are major, we do discuss as a team and further listen to everyone's input. Depending upon the magnitude of the issue, the majority of those in favor one way or the other, may determine the outcome of the decision. Once the final decision is made, it is important that we are all supportive of the final decision going forward regardless of whether we individually agree."

Kevin Unger
President and CEO of UCHealth's Poudre Valley Hospital (Fort Collins, Colo.) and Medical Center of the Rockies (Loveland, Colo.)

"We put patient care delivery and experience first and take them into consideration in every decision we make. But even with that in mind, when colleagues work together to consider all the pros and cons of a major decision, there can be disagreement in what will result in the best outcome. The most vital step of resolving those situations happens long before conflicting opinions surface. Fortunately, at UCHealth, we thrive in a culture of respect where all thoughts and solutions are valued and encouraged. Just because you're a leader doesn't mean you're always right, and I make sure to listen to all sides of an argument being presented.

"Even after fully discussing various ideas and approaches, if we still disagree, because of our culture of inclusion we feel comfortable continuing the discussion so we can both fully understand differing viewpoints. We may not always come to a full agreement on the matter, but if we have truly listened to each other and thoroughly explored the options together with open minds, we will be able to move forward and collaborate again on the next challenge that comes our way."

Erik Wexler
Chief Executive of Providence St. Joseph Health, Southern California (Irvine)

"As a leader, I appreciate and encourage points of views that differ from my own; I'm fortunate to work for an organization that values and respects the opinions and contributions of each person. Every decision we make is in the interest of providing the best possible care for our patients and our communities. When we disagree, we call on our values of compassion, dignity, justice, excellence and integrity to guide us.

"My colleagues and I do not shy away from disagreement because we understand the importance of new ways of thinking. When disagreements do occur, we don't take them personally and acknowledge the need to work together for a positive outcome. To do this, first arrange a time to talk through the problem. In that meeting, practice active listening. Be mindful of your body posture. Try to find points that you both can agree upon. Then, work together to find a solution. If possible, use the opportunity to develop a valuable, jointly-decided upon solution.

"We're seeing an unprecedented level of disruption in healthcare; it's a clear sign that traditional delivery systems need to pivot and become lighter, nimbler, more affordable and digitally enabled. As leaders, we'll likely be called on to make many major business decisions to get ahead of the headwinds facing our industry. Keeping focused on best serving our patients and communities will help mitigate disagreement as we continue to innovate."


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