BOSTON – Dealing with a difficult colleague is stressful in any work situation, but the stakes are particularly high when it comes to patient care, according to a speaker at the American Academy of Physician Assistants IMPACT 2014 meeting.

“Any consequence of a mistake can lead to harm to the patient,” Sudave Mendiratta, MD, FACEP, told the Clinical Advisor. “This is also your biggest resource – you have this in common with difficult colleagues.”

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As workplaces shift to encompass multiple generations with different values and style of workings, communication is key to maintaining good relationships with colleagues.

The best way to deal with a conflict is to avoid it to begin with, and Mendiratta offered several rules of thumb to keep the workplace harmonious.

These include maintaining an approachable disposition, expressing honest and sincere appreciation when it’s warranted, seeking common ground with coworkers, remembering names, being a good listener, pursuing conversations about your colleagues’ interests and learning from others strengths.

But disagreements are inevitable in any ongoing relationship. In these instance, Mendiratta offered the following pointers to help resolve workplace conflicts:

Focus on patient care. In situations where clinicians disagree on medical management, or have conflicting ideas about a medication or treatment having an open discussion that’s focused on the patient instead of the disagreement can help refocus attention on the common goal of providing the best care possible.

Be confident. In depth patient knowledge, regarding not just chart data, but also social history, can help ease tense situations  in which one healthcare provider feels underestimated by another

“Use the data to get what you want. You might consider rephrasing your treatment plan in the form of a question, framing it as “What do you think the best strategy for anticoagulation would be in this patient?” if you feel anticoagulation is necessary,” Mendiratta said.

Admit wrongdoing. Clinicians should recognize that sometimes conflict with other healthcare providers is unavoidable. Never be afraid to say “I’m sorry, or I was wrong and I made a mistake,” Mendiratta advised, adding that asking for help in these situation is also appropriate.

If a colleague is particularly incensing and obviously trying to provoke a reaction, take the higher road, he added.

“There are a lot of different ways that you can establish your value and feel worthwile, but it should never be a contest of who’s better trained. We’re all on the same team to take care of the patient and that’s what’s most important,” Mendiratta said.


  1. Mendiratta S. #B4069. “Dealing with difficult colleagues.” Presented at:  AAPA 2014 meeting. Boston; May 23-28, 2014.