• Dispute resolution

    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 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 Medical Association in each state. 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
    • Disputes over the doctor running behind time
    • 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 home visits/nursing home 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

    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
    • 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.

    Improving 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 or other outside agencies including Fair Work Australia.

    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.

    Reminder from avant-learning-centre

    Watch our webinar and earn CPD points Contracts, conflicts and compensation: Providing medical services to WA industry