Conflict. What words, thoughts, images immediately come to mind?
Stress. Danger. Anger. Fear. Out of control. These are some of the most common descriptors.
However, if you perceive conflict as only these things, you’re missing golden opportunities to increase production in your practice. Conflict is a natural part of life. And managing conflict is a necessary skill that directly impacts turnover and retention. The better you manage conflicts in your office, the bigger your bottom line…and peace-of-mind!
Sympathetic nervous system arousal puts you into a knee-jerk reactive state. At those times, you might come to blows with your chronically late hygienist. Or fume silently, feeling like a prisoner in your own office. When the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction kicks in, you respond from a visceral, feeling position rather than in a cerebral mode. As a result, you act from the pure emotion of the moment. That might be helpful if the building’s on fire, but dentistry success is built on rational, objective decision making.
The key is to keep normal disagreements from becoming harmful conflict.
The more deliberate you are in your choices, the better your ability to accurately assess what is happening, and what is most appropriate.
Examine your beliefs about conflict. Disagreements can result in positive change, just as the source of a pearl is an irritation. Commit to developing your skills in managing conflict constructively.
If you are a conflict-avoider, stop tip-toeing around. Address the sources of friction in your office in a timely manner. Contain normal disagreements before they rage into harmful conflict. Disagreements can be painful and difficult. It’s not supposed to be easy or feel good. Get a coach to help you learn and grow.
Remember that conflict situations offer a wide range of choices. Choices about how you choose to frame and interpret your employees’ actions. And choices about how you will respond. Choose to act from a rational approach, one that is based on objectivity.
Conflict management is about understanding and accepting different views. Disagreements can be resolved without damaging relationships. The first step is to reduce criticism in order to discover needed changes.
Criticism is based on judgments. It is often accusatory and focuses on the problem.
Discovery is based on inquiry. It is goal-oriented. It focuses on a mutually beneficial outcome. When you open a dialogue with your staff, you collaborate with them to find a solution.
Here are some ‘Discovery’ questions you might consider using to address disagreements and ward off harmful conflicts.
- I really want to understand the situation from your point of view. Can you tell me what’s going on?
- I think I see the specifics of this situation. Can you describe a time when it has been different? What made that situation different?
- If you could wave a magic wand to fix the situation, what would happen? What would change? Would you do things differently?
- Do you feel like you’ve been heard/understood? Are there pieces I’m missing?
- What positive can come from this situation?
- What can I do that would help the most?
To improve your skills in managing conflict, focus on one or two actions that seem most promising. Be patient with yourself. New skills seem awkward at first. With practice, you will begin to feel more confident about managing conflict. Most importantly, recognize the progress you make. ‘Celebrate’ incremental steps toward turning conflicts into opportunities for constructive outcomes!
To keep your office from becoming a battleground, contact Dr. Haller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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