Roads to resolution: The communication tools COOs lean on to handle disagreements

While hospital and health system CEOs are often the ultimate decision-makers at their organizations, collaboration with other C-suite members is key to successful and strategic choices. But executives do not always agree on everything.

So the question remains: How do executives reach a resolution on topics on which they do not immediately see eye to eye?

Becker's asked five COOs to share how they handle disagreements with their CEO or superior.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity. 

Rowell Daniels, PharmD. COO of UNC Hospitals (Chapel Hill, N.C.): We are truly in sync for a majority of our decisions. There's always a balance of knowledge, exposure to the topic, understanding of history and appreciation for risk. There are areas that UNC Hospitals President Janet Hadar, MSN, has had great exposure to over time. There are some areas that I've had more of an opportunity to gain experience and knowledge. There are areas where both of us have limited understanding as well as areas that we both share depth. Maintaining a healthy, deep respect for each other's strengths and weaknesses, especially around content areas, helps work through any number of differences of opinion. Every COO should recognize the ultimate limitation of their ability to "win" a disagreement with their CEO. Keeping an open line of communication on items of import is critical and also supports the ability for stronger debate when the time comes. Our offices are across from one another, and we are frequently seeking each other's advice on difficult issues. Establishing a "safe" environment that promotes a willingness to hear opposing ideas is important on many fronts. That is well established in our executive suite. Perhaps the strongest tool that can be used when working through a difference of opinion is data. If I'm ever in a situation where I can anticipate a disagreement, I always come armed with data. Even if I'm not ultimately successful, I know I'm more likely to be if the facts help light the way."

Susan Lee, DO. COO and administrator of Renown South Meadows Medical Center (Reno, Nev.): First, I restate the problem to ensure we mutually understand the details.  Sometimes, that clarifies a gap. Next, I plainly state my point of view or position, then give supporting data or conversational evidence. I use terms such as "respectfully disagree," or "I see it differently and here is why." Finally, I ask for a next step on readdressing the issue or what our next touch point will be once there is more information. Sometimes resolution takes more than one conversation.

Jeff Lindsay. Executive Vice President and COO of Novant Health (Winston-Salem, N.C.): At Novant Health, our CEO has intentionally created and fostered diversity of thought on our leadership team and beyond, an approach that often finds us initially having different views on topics. With various professional backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives, we each bring valued, unique thoughts to the table. Taking the time to listen and solicit input from others and intentionally pausing before acting has been critical in generating some of our most out-of-the box solutions and achieving success. As we face future challenges, this approach will be essential.

Kirsten Riggs, BSN, RN. COO of UNC Health Rex (Raleigh, N.C.): Conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing and over the last several years, managing conflict openly has helped our team successfully navigate through very difficult times. I am a firm believer in the importance of having an opinion, but the key to successful resolution is knowing when, where and how to voice it. In order to continue moving forward, I've adopted the following practices:

  • Recognize each another's strengths, blind spots and communication style.
  • Identify and agree on the problem you are trying to solve and what success looks like to both of you.
  • Take time to do your homework, use data based on facts and remain calm, neutral and open-minded while sharing your opinion. 
  • Be ready to support the outcome but have a mutually agreed upon backup plan in case you need to change direction.
  • Acknowledge success and failures and always give credit where credit is due.

C-suite relationships are crucial to any organization's success. Conflict resolution is much easier when you share the same values, goals, and have mutual respect for one another. This is the type of relationship I have with my UNC Health Rex CEO, Ernie Bovio. His support, advocacy and trust is the foundation of our "ONE Great Team."

Pamela Sutton-Wallace. Executive Vice President and COO of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health: The joy of being part of an engaged and diverse team of leaders is that we bring fresh and novel perspectives to dialogues about complex and mission critical topics. Invariably, the leadership team may have different perspectives, opinions or insights into any given topic — whether it's workforce challenges, strategic direction, resource allocation or capital commitments. When disagreements arise, it is essential to lean on our organizational values and leadership success factors to communicate with respect, assume positive intent and to keep the patient, their loved ones and our teams at the forefront of our decision-making. The keys are to spend dedicated time listening intently, speaking candidly, and using data and scenario planning to find safe space for debate, compromise and mutual agreement knowing that delivering on our shared vision is the priority for our patients and community. Importantly, we also agree to revisit the outcomes and results of our collective decision to ensure that it is meeting our expectations/goals. If the intended goals are not met, then we acknowledge, commit to pivot and adopt a different position/choice that may not have been our own.

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars