Improve Your Practice

It is a rare work environment where a difficult situation between staff has not been experienced and hopefully resolved. It is important for the practice to have ways of managing disagreements and conflict in the workplace to help achieve a positive work environment and successful business.  

The objective of any dispute resolution process is to minimise the damage or fallout to both the practice and staff. Every practice should have a designated dispute resolution officer (normally the practice manager) who staff know they can talk to about concerns, without negative consequences. Be sure to clarify with the staff member that they do, in fact, want the matter addressed with the other person and are not just letting off steam.

There are dispute resolution services, resources and policies available from the Australian Association of Practice Managers. Obviously every situation is different and should be considered as early as possible in the process as to how serious it is and whether or not outside assistance is required.

Common situations leading to conflict

  • fundamental problems or confusion about the staff member’s contract terms and conditions
  • lack of access to see doctor of choice
  • disputes arising from inconsistent information provided by practice staff
  • disputes over the doctor running behind time
  • disputes over availability of appointment times to suit patients and time to wait to get an appointment
  • disputes over the expectation on the doctor to work the after-hours shifts and to do the ‘on call’ roster on a perceived unequal basis
  • disagreement regarding fee payments 
  • unrealistic expectations about the administrative and clinical staff
  • untimely response to patient’s messages
  • untimely review of test results
  • doctor’s dissatisfaction with the level of mentoring
  • limited formal educational opportunities that may often not include adequate tutorials, case presentations, provision of journals, x-ray and pathology meetings
  • issues concerning clinical supervision
  • inadequate arrangements for review and assessment
  • unreliable scheduling of regular meetings, therefore making the opportunity for feedback on performance limited
  • modifications to the education plan when the doctor requires more clinical education
  • disputes over allocation of annual leave and sick leave
  • bullying and harassment in the workplace
  • inconsistent treatment by management amongst employees

Ways to avoid conflict

  • Clarify individual roles and responsibilities on appointment.
  • Undertake annual appraisal of all staff.
  • Do not ignore problems when they first occur.
  • Provide and adhere to clear practice policies.
  • Maintain communication with staff through regular meetings.

Ways of dealing with conflict

Conflict is a process, not a product. As conflict is the process of expressing dissatisfaction, disagreement or unmet expectations, consider the following conflict management options to facilitate resolution of these problems. Here are some commonly used concepts:

  • Avoidance is a temporary strategy that rarely works because it does not make the conflict go away and it may make it worse.
  • Accommodation eventuates in giving in without any resolution to the problem.
  • Domination usually involves a power struggle and domination over another party. However, it has the benefit of resolving conflict quickly and is effective when the parties accept the power relationship.
  • Negotiation is a compromising strategy that involves moderate levels of cooperation and assertiveness. Both parties state their positions and try to reach a compromise. The aim is to minimise losses and maximise gains.
  • Collaboration requires open communication and identification of the goals and objectives of each of the parties. It requires assertiveness, creative problem solving and confrontation. This strategy will often result in long-term results as the organisation’s goals and objectives are reached whilst creating a balance of accommodating the individual’s goals and objectives.

Improve your practice

  • Have a policy in place that sets out the process for staff members to raise workplace issues of concern. Ensure that the practice follows its policy when issues are raised.
  • Attempt to resolve workplace issues at the workplace in the first place. This will (hopefully) avoid staff going to external regulators such as Fair Work Australia or an anti-discrimination commission. Deal with issues quickly when they arise.

Outside assistance

If the conflict is unable to be resolved even after resorting to the dispute resolution guidelines, which include a process for resorting to outside help, then you may consider seeking help from Avant, AAPM or other outside agencies including Fair Work Australia.

AAPM offers an IR/HR telephone service to members who have taken out appropriate membership. Advice is provided by legally qualified personnel.

Avant offers a telephone advice service for its members. Members may also be entitled to legal advice and assistance for a variety of employment related disputes.


  • Don’t let conflict situations fester: Do something about the situation.
  • Don’t react without thinking the situation through.
  • Maintain respect throughout. Do not personalise the dispute.
  • Be aware of the sorts of issues that can turn into conflict.
  • Aim to negotiate a ‘win-win’ solution.


Constantino, Cathy A., and Merchant, Christina Sickles, Designing Conflict Management Systems: A Guide to Creating Productive and Healthy Organizations. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1996.

Brinkman, Dr Rick and Kirschner, Dr Rick, Dealing With People You Can’t Stand. New Caledonia, Inkwell Publishing Services, 2002. 

Australian Standard Customer Satisfaction - Guidelines for Complaints Handling

Dispute Resolution – – this website has links to the specific contacts for each state (CMS)

Next page

Managing performance and development
  • Managing performance issues
  • Staff development
  • Performance management
  • Performance issues
  • Performance standards
  • The performance appraisal document
  • Educational resources for practice managers and general staff

This publication is proudly brought to you by Avant Mutual Group. The content was authored by Brett McPherson, reviewed by Colleen Sullivan and Avant Mutual Group.

This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2014.

IMPORTANT: Professional indemnity insurance products and Avant’s Practice Medical Indemnity Policy are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. The information provided here is general advice only. You should consider the appropriateness of the advice having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us. For full details including the terms, conditions, and exclusions that apply, please read and consider the policy wording and PDS, which is available at or by contacting us on 1800 128 268. Practices need to consider other forms of insurance including directors’ and officers’ liability, public and products liability, property and business interruption insurance, and workers compensation and you should contact your insurance broker for more information. Cover is subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy. Any advice here does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the product is appropriate for you before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us.