Tackling Everyday Conflict
Are little daily conflicts on your team starting to add up and take their toll? Big things or little things, it doesn’t matter - conflict reduces the effectiveness of your employees to deliver high quality care to patients.
Ignoring staff conflicts puts you and your practice at risk. Sometimes feuding employees fail to communicate vital information about scheduling or billing. There are people who actively undermine the efforts of others, but it is more likely that the inattention to detail is the result of stress and distractibility. Even worse, when tensions between employees are not resolved, there is an increased probability of safety errors. Take back control now!
I’ve worked with a lot of dental teams and it always amazes me how the “battles” start from rather small misunderstandings. Judy and Linda in the back office are best friends and they went to lunch but failed to invite Brenda who works up front. Donna the hygienist left quickly after her last appointment of the day because her son was sick at school and she didn’t have time to clean her instruments. The wastebaskets in the bathroom needed emptying and everyone was angry at Mary because they believed administrative staff should take care of such chores.
Through thousands of seemingly insignificant daily interactions, teams can unknowingly create environments that are adversarial. The unfortunate thing is that negative assumptions pick up momentum and they spread. Before you know it, a molehill can turn into a mountain if you are not on top of the dynamics in your team. Here are some steps to tackle everyday conflict before your office turns into a war zone.
1. Watch for signs of team dysfunction as evidenced by complaints from employees or patients, decreased productivity, unkind humor between employees or low participation in morning huddles and regular meetings.
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities. Remove ambiguity about duties, authority, allocation of time and relationships with others to maximize harmony. By having job descriptions and policies and procedures in place, each member of your team will be clear about what you expect of their behavior.
3. Establish team goals. These should be objectives that benefit both the practice and individual team members. For example, the goal may be to complete daily tasks more quickly and accurately in order to leave on time each day.
4. Create an atmosphere that fosters open communication. Team meetings and social gatherings are effective activities for you and your employees to learn more about one another. A bi-weekly potluck or ordering pizza one day a week allows employees to relax and get to know one another.
5. Serve as an example by listening to suggestions, concerns and questions from all team members. Building trust in this way allows others to openly communicate their ideas and challenges.
6. Build consensus on important issues. When significant decisions must be made, ask for input from everyone in your office.
7. Celebrate effective teamwork and praise individuals publicly. Collaborative problem-solving, greater innovation, open communication and increased productivity are a few examples.
8. Reward the entire team for collaborative efforts when they work together successfully. Movie tickets, car washes and Starbucks cards are inexpensive ways to provide “bonuses” without breaking the bank.
9. Encourage employees to teach skills and share information with one another. This also benefits your practice because staff are cross-trained.
10. Alternate roles for routine tasks. For example, rotate the assignment of writing the staff meeting agenda and taking notes. This enables everyone to gain an understanding of team challenges.
11. Assign a task force to research issues. If the practice encounters problems, assign employees to work together to find solutions and then present their findings to the entire team.
When conflicts do occur, deal with it as soon as possible. Show empathy but take charge of power struggles, instead of being held hostage by their toxic effects. Acknowledge employees’ feelings and jointly identify focus on ways to remedy the problem and move forward. Keep the attitude that holding different views is both normal and healthy to a group. Use patience, persistence and good people skills to keep your office a peace zone.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.orgInterested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
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