Meet Drs. Andy and Ben. (these aren't their real names, but this is their real story.) They're long-time friends, classmates,
who want to start a practice together. They appreciate each other's skills and believe they'll work well together as business
Dr. Andy is methodical, organized, and focused on getting things done. Dr. Ben is a creative thinker and a visionary, always
looking ahead for new opportunities. So Drs. Andy and Ben embark on a journey together. They purchase land, build a facility,
and hire staff members. They're about to live their dream.
But it wasn't a dream at all. Their practice turned into a nightmare. Two years later, Dr. Ben calls me. "Things aren't going
well," he says. "Dr. Andy and I just don't see eye to eye. I want out of the practice. Can you help me?"
I wish I could tell you their story has a happy ending. It doesn't. The truth is I couldn't help. Their conflict had turned
the practice on end, resulting in severe turnover and a declining client base. Both doctors had considered filing bankruptcy
because they couldn't cover their mortgage payments on the practice property. They ultimately went their own ways. How could
conflict get so bad that it literally tears a practice apart?
Drs. Andy and Ben let their differences generate conflict from Day 1, and they did nothing to stop it. Of course, not every
disagreement results in conflict. In fact, most disagreements are constructive. They're a natural part of interacting with
others and serve as a catalyst for positive change. What differentiates disagreements from conflict is how the participants
choose to deal with them.
Drs. Andy and Ben chose not to deal with disagreements at all. Dr. Andy says that Dr. Ben always wanted everything to be nice
and pleasant and for everyone to be happy. "He wouldn't talk about our problem," he says. "He thought it would go away by
Meanwhile, Dr. Ben says confrontation made Dr. Andy uncomfortable. "As a result, our differences took on a life of their own,
killing our practice," he says.
What started as complementary strengths surfaced as differences in the doctors' working styles, and unaddressed, they led
to disagreements. These disagreements led to conflict for several reasons:
- The doctors were interdependent; each needed something from the other.
- They blamed each other, each one finding fault with the other for causing the problem.
- They were angry, whether the emotions were hidden or open.
The owners' behaviors also caused business problems. Their relationship with each other, their staff, and their clients suffered,
resulting in costly mistakes and delays. Everyone spent time dealing with stress and anger. Everyone's productivity dropped.