Is Your Office Like Reality TV? Get Rid of Workplace Drama
The Complainer. The Cynic. The Controller. The Martyr. These are just a few of the dramatic roles that can show up in dental practices. If you’ve experienced any of these, then you know it takes just one whiner, one troublemaker, one office gossip to cripple a team and destroy morale. Workplace drama wreaks havoc, resulting in fighting and turf wars that drain energy and diminish productivity.
Unfortunately, dental leaders often avoid dealing with drama in the workplace, or deal with it badly, for one of two reasons – they lack the skills to address difficult interpersonal topics, and/or they’re fearful that confrontation will make matters worse. More than a few clients have told me, “I just don’t get it. Why can’t they just do their work? It’s like dealing with children.”
As tempting as it is to ignore the problem, once negativity has started to infect your team, it’s hard to contain the damage. If you are sitting and waiting for things to improve, you are not a leader, you’re a follower. Stop griping about how Mary isn’t carrying her weight or that she has an ongoing tiff with Jane. Wishing and hoping won’t change things. It’s time to get some backbone, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What am I doing or not doing that is causing this team to fall apart?” You’re the one in charge and you need to take command, albeit diplomatically.
It starts with a serious and formal conversation that is done privately. The best location would either be in your office, with the door closed, or in a neutral setting like a conference or break room. Communicate expectations clearly in terms of performance and behavior. For example, emphasize that while she has excellent technical skills, Mary also needs to have positive interpersonal behavior such as helpfulness and cooperation with co-workers. Although she does not need to ‘like’ everyone on the team, she absolutely must be respectful no matter how upset she is.
Identify the gap between expectations and observed behavior. Be specific by focusing on changeable actions. For Mary these might include rolling her eyes when team members ask questions or suggest ideas, coming back late from lunch, making personal phone calls or surfing the internet during work hours, and talking in a loud and demeaning tone to others. Stay focused on what Mary says and does in the most concrete descriptions.
Clarify the rewards of meeting the expectations – i.e. job security, future opportunity, appreciation and value to the practice. Be sure to express your appreciation to Mary and emphasize what a great job she does with insurance and billing. Let her know that you want her to continue to work with you and that she needs to make changes in her behavior.
Spell out the consequences of not meeting expectations. Voice concern to Mary that the way she has treated co-workers suggests she is not happy. Underscore that you want her to feel satisfied and enjoy her job. Avoid ultimatums. Focus on the impact of poor performance, to the team, to patients and ultimately to the employee. Allow Mary the opportunity to choose her own path. One road leads to rewards, and the other is the option to leave. Your practice may not be the best place for Mary if she can’t get along with the other members of the team. Be truthful and kind as you lay out the choice.
Once you have this discussion, document it and put your notes in the employee’s personnel file. If it’s necessary to have a second conversation about poor behavior, be sure to have the employee sign the written warning. Then empower Mary to create her own destiny. Her actions will signal her “choice.” Show support. Reward Mary for progress, or release her from a situation that neither of you is happy with.
Dealing with workplace drama is one of the least rewarding parts of being a dental leader. But unless you step in and defuse the drama, it will damage everyone associated with it and render poor practice results. Establish the non-negotiable behaviors of personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in your office so employees excel and provide excellent patient care.
If your team is marred by dysfunction, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.I will help you to create a collaborative and fun work environment without the drama.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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