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8 Tips to Help You Conquer Conflict in Your Practice
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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You know there’s no avoiding it. Conflict is going to happen in your practice. It’s part of daily life, and your practice certainly isn’t immune. Still, the thought of it makes you cringe, so you choose not to think about it at all. Instead, you go about your routine and turn away when you see even a hint of conflict within your team. They’ll work it out. You just want to do the dentistry.

If that’s your attitude toward conflict, we need to talk. Ignoring conflict within your team will only make the situation worse. It costs you time, money and maybe even employees. It kills team morale and makes your practice an uncomfortable place for patients to visit. Not exactly a recipe for success, is it?

Even if it makes you uncomfortable, you have to deal with conflict before it does permanent damage to your practice. The good news is, there are steps you can take to conquer conflict before it reaches a boiling point. Here are my eight tips to help reduce conflict in your practice and keep your staff members working as a team toward one common goal – your practice’s success.

1. Take the emotion out of it. Instead of reacting to conflict with emotion, react to it strategically. Privately discuss the situation with the employees involved and work together to come up with a solution. Focus on using a once negative situation to create positive change in your practice. Remember that it’s not about determining who’s right or wrong; it’s about finding a solution.

2. Choose to be positive. You determine how you react to situations. When conflict brings negativity to your practice, stay positive and focused on finding a solution. Encourage your team members to do the same.

3. Don’t talk about team members when they’re not there. If Susan is upset with Mary because she can’t seem to make it to work on time, Susan will likely let this quietly fester until it manifests into passive aggressive behavior, and that means gossip and snide remarks. To help put an end to gossip before it starts, tell team members to only talk about co-workers when they’re in the room. Encourage them to walk away from other employees who don’t follow this rule, or to change the subject.

4. Hold daily huddles. If you’re dealing with conflict in your practice, chances are you also have a communication issue. Morning huddles provide a great opportunity for you and your team to communicate and address any issues that could lead to bigger problems later. If the clinical team isn’t happy about the way emergency patients are being scheduled, for example, this is a great time to communicate that frustration and find a solution.

5. Hold your team accountable. Meet with your team members once a month to get an update on the systems they’re accountable for. Discuss what’s happening in every system and how performance can be improved. Too much unscheduled time last month? Work as a team to come up with strategies to turn it around. Clearly communicate your expectations, set deadlines and delegate individual employees to pursue the problem-solving strategies you outline in the meeting. This not only helps improve your systems, it helps avoid frustrations and conflict down the road.

6. Develop and share job descriptions. Not providing your employees with clear direction is a great way to create conflict within your team. Without job descriptions, no one knows who is responsible for which tasks or which systems, and that leads to frustration and power struggles. Detailed job descriptions provide clear direction, and outline each job’s role, necessary skill set and your expectations. There’s no question who’s responsible for what. Create clear job descriptions for every role, and share them with every team member.

7. Establish clear office policies. Develop policies that outline standards for professional behavior and how you want your office to be run. Not going to tolerate gossip in your practice? Make it part of your office policies. Include these policies in the employee handbook, and make sure every employee reads and signs off on them.

8. Stop making excuses. I know confronting conflict isn’t easy, but making excuses to avoid it isn’t going to make the problem go away. It doesn’t matter how nice Mary is or how long she’s been part of your team. If there’s a problem, you need to sit down with her and find a solution, together. You can’t pretend the conflict will fade away with time. The opposite is true. If you ignore it, it will only get worse.

Conflict is part of life, but it doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your dental practice. Instead of ignoring conflict, deal with it head on. Work with your team to find solutions, and both your team and your practice will be stronger for it.

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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