08.07.09 Issue #387 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Troublemaker on Your Team?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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For some, the whole world is a stage. For others, it’s a playground. And the adolescent behaviors, sophomoric attitudes, immature actions, and “mean girl” (and boy) tactics seem to never end. Worst of all, they can deride even the very best dental teams and practices.

Years ago, personality conflicts, as these behaviors were typically categorized, were shrugged off as silly little nuisances that were simply part of life in any workplace. And, certainly, we’ve all had to deal with someone who always seemed to be stirring the proverbial pot. But what happens when that person is an employee in your practice and it appears that very few can get along with her? In fact, a fair number of employees have even labeled her a troublemaker, but most of those left. And, from where you sit, this employee does good work, and, truth be told, you would rather not get your hands dirty on these office squabbles. In fact, to you, it sounds like it’s mostly just idle gossip. Yet it is that “idle gossip” that can cost you and your practice a fortune.

Consider the case of Pam. She was a new hire in Dr. D’s office. She had worked there a few months when the doctor invited her to attend a dental consulting program that required out-of-state travel with the doctor. Pam was the third in a string of new personnel that had been hired to replace Sue, the doctor’s former assistant. The other two “didn’t work out.” Sue had been the doctor’s assistant for three years, but she left suddenly and with little explanation. The office staff weren’t particularly welcoming of Pam. It seemed that whenever she walked in the room the conversation would stop. Although Pam came with extensive experience and a track record of success, her suggestions were greeted coolly at best. She was frequently left out of the communication loop. Jackie, the office manager, had a habit of overlooking Pam when it came to sharing details that would impact her performance, such as changes in the schedule, patient information, and so on. 

But it was the day that Pam overheard Jackie talking in hushed tones to the other staff members that Pam decided this wasn’t the office for her. Jackie quietly divulged to those gathered around the break-room table that Pam would probably be the only one getting a raise this year after the special time she’d spent with the doctor on that “so-called continuing education trip.” Laughing it up, the group seemed to savor every morsel of the juicy gossip. Jackie went on to say that she was convinced that there must be something going on between them. When Pam confronted the doctor and asked him to address the matter, he defended Jackie and said she was just trying to be funny. Within six weeks Pam found a new job, and once again Dr. D was left wondering why another good employee didn’t last even a year. 

Innuendo, lies, rumors, and office gossip have long been part of the professional landscape. But the degree of viciousness has been turned up more than a notch or two in recent years. And when the rumor mill is shredding the reputation of your team, it’s time to step in and address the issue.

It is not uncommon for employees to engage in gossip if they are bored or don’t feel that they are informed about important issues. Human nature is such that when information is lacking we fill in the blanks with what we perceive to be the truth. In an office in which sudden change occurs, such as an employee is let go, if the doctor does not immediately address the matter with the remaining staff they will talk amongst themselves and any gaps in the  “official” communication chain will be filled in with their misperceptions and misinformation. It is the doctor who sets the tone. In Pam’s case, the character assassination would continue because the doctor abdicated his responsibility as the leader of the practice.

In smaller businesses, such as dental practices, the best approach in dealing with office gossip is the direct route. Confront the offender. Make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable in your office. Even if the person denies being the source, you will have made your point. Most importantly, you will be setting a standard for the rest of the team to follow.

Next week, practical steps to shut down the rumor mill.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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