All that "Talk" is taking a Financial Toll
Innuendo, lies, rumors, and gossip - ah yes the political campaigns are in full swing. If only such nastiness were relegated exclusively to the election circuit. Unfortunately, it's as much a part of the professional landscape as it is the political landscape. As personal and financial stress has increased over the last few years, it appears that the degree of malicious gossip in the workplace has been turned up more than a notch or two as well.
It is not uncommon for employees to spread rumors and misinformation among themselves, especially if they 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 true - hence our perceptions become our reality. When sudden change occurs in the office, such as cutting back hours or laying off or firing employees, if the doctor does not immediately address the matter with the remaining staff s/he will lose control of practice communication on virtually every front - among employees, between employees and patients, and among patients and non-patients. Managing the message isn't just for the campaign strategists. It is imperative that you establish a clear channel of communication among your team.
Some doctors will reason that they tell employees what they need to know, and if it doesn't affect them personally, they don't need to know. In reality, every major decision that a practice owner makes affects the employees to some degree, because it has an impact on the total workplace environment.
In other cases, it is lack of accountability among the employees that creates an atmosphere in which the gossip, backbiting, and undercutting of one another is part of the practice “culture.” Oftentimes, it’s one or two employees who are running the show, the “queen bee” and her “apprentice.” A new employee comes on board and the queen may feel threatened. The new employee doesn’t fall into step or pay appropriate homage to the queen, so she and her apprentice slowly begin to make the new employee uncomfortable. They might make comments about the new person’s personal life, question her/his professional capabilities in front of patients, or suggest that s/he has an inappropriate relationship with the doctor or another staff member. They feign concern for the co-worker as they whisper the latest “news” to one another. Sadly, the possibilities for character assassination are endless.
This type of gossip is like the car accident you happen upon - you don't want to look, but you can't stop staring. Each juicy little morsel is a distraction that takes the focus away from work that needs to be done, systems that must be managed, and patients that require the team's undivided attention. Left unchecked, it can be profoundly devastating to the effectiveness of individuals and the team as a whole. But the most troubling aspect of gossip is that it can put the practice in the crosshairs of legal action. Thus, it is essential to establish a practice culture in which gossip, rumor, and innuendo simply are not tolerated. Keep a lid on rumors in your practice by following these strategies:
Put your expectations in writing. A clear code of conduct should be an established part of every dental office policy manual. The code may comprise many facets, including an ethics and professionalism policy that outlines appropriate office behavior and makes it clear that all employees are expected to treat patients as well as each other with dignity and respect. Inform your employees that gossip and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Institute performance evaluation systems that measure the effectiveness of employee communication skills.
Encourage employees to take a stand against gossip and hold each other accountable. Employees that engage in spreading gossip should be confronted and warned that their behavior is damaging to the practice and will not be tolerated.
Co-workers can let the gossiper know that they do not care to engage in this type of conversation. They don't have to be combative or negative, just honest about the fact that it makes them uncomfortable to talk about another person in this way. Although taking such action can feel rather intimidating, each time an employee stands up to the gossiper, they not only become more comfortable doing so, they give power to others in the group to take the same steps. Although instituting a policy to eliminate gossip is virtually impossible, creating a practice culture that doesn't tolerate it is not only possible but highly effective.
For more information on this topic and for additional Dental Practice Management info, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Partnership: Preparing for a Professional Marriage
An Associate approaches you about buying into your dental practice. You weren't looking for a business partner, but now that you've been asked you are considering selling a 1/3 equity to start.
This is a “proposal” for a shared professional life. A business partnership is like a marriage. You want to ease your way into it with open eyes and LOTS of communication on the important issues that will eventually come up. You owe it to yourself to review the positives and negatives before rushing into such a commitment.
Many partnerships are put together in the enthusiasm of the moment without a thoughtful plan. Opposites do attract, but over time they can repel one another. I've talked with many Doctors who have partnered with someone who has a different set of goals or a very dissimilar manner of conducting business. Choosing the wrong partner creates years of problems and tens of thousands of dollars!
Perhaps you may already be in a partnership and haven’t gone through a critical analysis in advance. While you certainly can do so retroactively, the time to determine the fit and viability of a business partnership is before you “get married.” Here are the most important issues to think about:
1. Values are the essence of our being. They define who we are and the choices we make. Do you and your Associate share similar and consistent values? Do you both fundamentally move in the same direction? Do you philosophically agree on how to treat employees and patients?
2. Conflict. How do you and your Associate deal with conflict? Is there a “win-win” model between the two of you? When difficulties have occurred, does the Associate get aggressive, defensive, or passive? The way your Associate has responded to conflict in the past is a preview of how that person will deal with it in the future. Knowing this upfront will help you to manage situations before they get out of hand.
3. Work ethic is a third consideration. How does your Associate think things should be done? What have you observed in this person's behavior about how s/he does their job and handles responsibilities?
4. Integrity. This is a non-negotiable. Do you trust this person? Does this person consistently meet their big or small commitments? Will this person do what’s right, especially when it isn’t convenient or profitable? Is it based on a gut reaction or on a relationship you’ve established with that person beforehand? How long have you worked together? It’s important that you establish a reasonable track record and get feedback from people who know the person. Obviously this requires time and you want to go slowly. Just like a personal relationship, “dating” for a significant period of time is important prior to deciding on marriage.
5. Vision. Do you share a similar vision, both for what the practice is now and what you want it to be in the future? Are you both on the same page for the business? If it were working perfectly, what would it look like? What would the outcome be, and what would be the process to get there? Being clear on the outcome and the route to that destination are essentials for a rewarding and profitable relationship.
The vehicle to address these partnership issues is to communicate, communicate, communicate! Your partnership will only be as good as your communication. Communicate face-to-face. Communicate via phone, email, or text. Consistent and thoughtful communication gives your partnership the energy it needs to flourish and develop into something great. It does require a big investment upfront, but the payoff will be huge dividends.
One of the ways I have helped doctors determine the viability of a partnership is through a measured assessment. This consists of taking a battery of psychological tests. In addition I talk with each person individually. The testing is administered electronically, and the interview is conducted by phone. The purpose of the assessment is to identify each person’s work style, personality, values and behaviors. After I consolidate the data, I schedule a conference call to review the results, first with each doctor individually then jointly. Acknowledging areas of commonality and areas of difference enables both parties to determine how closely they “match” and where there may be gaps - and whether the gaps can be bridged. In other words - determining the synergies as well as the opportunities for learning.
Last but not least, it's important to put a Buy-Sell Agreement in place including an exit strategy. It may be the farthest thing from your mind, but at the start of your partnership you should consider the possibility that someday, for some reason, it could end. Partners change over time. People grow personally and professionally at different rates. Agreeing at the beginning how you would break up sets realistic expectations and a clear path for the longevity of the practice.
Prevent a mismatch and safeguard the long-term health of your partnership. Walk down the aisle with confidence and peace of mind.
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
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
Talking with Patients - How to Handle "Delicate" Topics
Hygienists spend considerable time with patients and often become quite familiar with their likes, dislikes, family life, work issues, preferences, and other personal topics. While most of us enjoy the warm, friendly atmosphere that being a hygienist can foster - what can we do about a patient who asks us embarrassing questions or broaches difficult subjects? We all know the common sense advice to avoid discussions about politics or religion; but what can we do when a patient wants to talk about these matters? Let's look at a few scenarios:
Joanie is a long-standing patient. She is a mom and works at a computer data firm. During her appointment today she asks you what you think about the upcoming presidential election. She lets it be known that she prefers a candidate that you don't support. She asks you who you plan to vote for in the election. What should you say? While no one would expect a person to totally hide their opinions on important matters, you know that this conversation will be uncomfortable, and more significantly, can do nothing to foster a good professional relationship going forward. After all, your job is to help Joanie maintain her oral health, not get into any type of controversy over politics.
The best solution may be to simply try to divert the question with a “soft” reply and then change the subject. For example: “Well, the election won’t be for several months. I’m still evaluating the candidates. But you know, I’ve been meaning to tell you - I saw in the paper that your daughter made the honor roll. I’m sure you must be very proud of her!” Or, “I have an idea who I will support, but want to take more time to think about it. But I wanted to ask you - have you had a chance to see that movie we were talking about the last time you were here? I haven’t had a chance to go and wondered what you thought about it.”
Marie has been coming to the office for several years and is on a four-times-annually maintenance schedule, so you see her very often. She knows many of the other staff members from her frequent visits as well. One of the dental assistants in the office is in the process of getting a divorce. Marie asks you, “Do you know why Annie and her husband are divorcing? I always thought they were so happy.” Office gossip is a problem, whether it is with another staff person or with a patient. Talking about someone’s personal business can create many issues, the least of which may be hurt feelings. It is also unprofessional. What might you say to Marie? Again, a noncommittal reply may be the best choice. For example: “Well, I know Annie told you she was getting a divorce, but I really don’t know all the particulars. All of us here are just wishing her the best.”
Mrs. Thompson is very active in her church. She is soliciting donations for an associated group that you do not support. When she comes for her appointment today, she asks you to donate. What should you do? Deflecting this type of request can be very tricky. You don’t want to imply that Mrs. Thompson is “wrong,” because all of us have the right to our beliefs and causes, but you don’t want to participate in something that goes against your own beliefs. You might say: “I have several organizations that I support, and I try to contribute to them regularly. So, I have to tell you that my financial contributions for this year are already promised. I’m sorry, but I know you understand.” And then change the subject. “Did you and your husband enjoy the cruise you were talking about going on last time you were here? It sounded wonderful.”
Bill is a stock broker who likes to talk about the “market” and is always up on the latest information. He has just completed extensive restorative work with your dentist and has mentioned several times how expensive he thought the treatment was. During his periodontal maintenance appointment today he tells you that he noticed Dr. Williams has a new car parked in the parking lot. “I guess all of that money I spent on my teeth paid off for the Doc. That is a really expensive car!” While this is not really a question, a request for a comment from you is implied. You might try a light-hearted, but still accurate reply. “Well, let’s just hope that his car gives him as much good service as your beautiful new crowns will!”
Dealing with patients is often a lot more complicated than the already complicated aspect of treating their oral conditions. Unlike a surgeon’s anesthetized patients, our patients are fully awake and full of questions and comments. While we all try to keep the focus on the dental care we are providing, the social facet of our profession cannot be ignored. Being somewhat prepared to respond to “delicate” topics can keep us from being blindsided by certain patient remarks.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.”
Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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