Picture this: You’re enjoying one of those exceptionally good days. Things are moving along pretty smoothly. The schedule is full, you’re running on-time, the patients are happy, they’re paying, no major upsets or snafus, life is good. Yes, this has all the makings of one of those rare ideal days management consultants dangle in front of you at dental meetings.
Then, without warning, staff member Carol corners you in the hallway. “Doctor, I have to talk to you about a problem.” Noooo!” you’re thinking, “What kind of problem could possibly taint this positively perfect day?” As if reading your mind, she snaps, “Kathy is at it again.” That sinking feeling sweeps over you. Ideal has turned to I-dread because the last thing you want to deal with is an interpersonal tiff.
Disagreement, conflict, strife, consternation whatever label you want to give it, one thing’s for sure, it’s the stuff sleepless nights, emotional eating, and Maalox moments are made of. Hate dealing with conflict? Welcome to the club. A number of surveys indicate that people in all occupations report the most uncomfortable, stress-producing parts of their jobs are the interpersonal conflicts that they experience on a daily basis between themselves and co-workers or supervisors.
It is estimated that more than 65% of performance problems result from strained relationships between employees -- not from deficits in individual employees' skill or motivation. Then there are the findings from the Center for Creative Leadership. The organization’s long-standing research into executive derailment of U.S. and European managers shows that problems with interpersonal relationships, including the inability to manage conflict, is the number one cause of managerial careers going off track. No wonder all you want to do is the dentistry! Even the experts have trouble with this one.
Conflict arises for numerous reasons, but the most common contributors are poor or lack of communication, different values, personal agendas, lack of resources - both human and financial, and poor employee performance. The result: negative attitudes, unresolved misunderstandings, and low morale.
Getting back to the employee who has just derailed your ideal day. What do you do about Kathy? According to Carol, it seems that Kathy is slipping in late, not cleaning up after herself in the break-room, and is making very little effort to use the new computer system correctly. You promise yourself and the complaining staff member that you’ll address the problem at the appropriate time.
You know you need to confront the issue, but you don’t want to anger or embarrass Kathy. And, truth be told, you simply don’t know how to tackle this matter straight on. So you opt for the indirect route. At the next staff meeting, you announce to the team that everyone is expected to arrive on time, cleanup after themselves in the breakroom, and carry out their responsibilities fully. There. Done. You’ve addressed the issue and everyone can just move on.
Well, you certainly didn’t embarrass problem-employee Kathy. In fact, she may not even realize her behavior is the problem. The other staff members, meanwhile, may be wondering why they are being reprimanded publicly for behavior they don’t engage in. They begin gossiping amongst themselves in an effort to ferret out the real perpetrator. While you might think you’ve done what you can to address the issue, unfortunately, you’ve probably only stirred the pot.
It’s much easier to ignore these undercurrents of discontent or halfheartedly address the issues, cross your fingers and hope the problem will just take care of itself. After all, people have disagreements and personality differences everyday. It’s just the way it is, right? Such thinking is certainly comforting until you experience the direct impact of unresolved conflict, which manifests itself lost productivity, absenteeism, increased cancellations, lower treatment acceptance, costly mistakes, etcetera, etcetera. The only way to manage this subversive enemy is to tackle it head on.
The process need not be painful or particularly difficult, but it does need to be clear and direct. Take charge. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but implementing clear conflict resolution strategies can significantly reduce differences among the team and keep the practice firmly on track.
Next week, specific steps to walk you down from the cliffs of conflict.
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