How to Get Staff Conflict Under Control
As the CEO of your dental practice, you sometimes have to deal with uncomfortable situations – and that includes staff conflict. While I know you’d much rather focus on the dentistry and ignore any problems that arise among team members, that hands-off approach is costing your practice money. When team members are busy gossiping about each other or even arguing, it cuts into their production and your bottom line. It also makes patients uncomfortable, and could send them looking for a new dental home.
Every practice deals with conflict from time to time, but you can’t let it boil out of control. It should be addressed as soon as you know there’s a problem. Not sure how? I’ve put together some tips designed to help you deal with staff conflict and get your practice back on track.
Stay positive. Conflict can create a negative vibe that brings everyone in your practice down, and that includes your patients. Don’t let it. Instead, choose to be positive, and encourage your team members to do the same as you work together to find a solution.
Be strategic. It’s easy to react to conflict with emotion, but this will only make the situation worse. You’ll have much better results if you react to conflict strategically. Remember it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong; your goal is to resolve the problem so everyone can move on. Sit down with the team members involved and calmly talk with them about what’s causing the issue. From there, work together to find a solution.
Stop gossip before it starts. Snide remarks and petty gossip fuel staff conflict, and will do nothing but hurt your practice. Tell team members to only talk about co-workers if they’re in the same room, and to walk away or change the subject when others don’t want to follow this rule.
Hold daily huddles. These meetings give your team members the opportunity to talk about problems they’re having before they become bigger issues. Daily huddles also help improve communication among your team members, which could prevent a problem from popping up down the road.
Develop clear policies. Now is a great time to create policies that outline standards for professional behavior and how you want your office to be run. Not going to tolerate employees gossiping about each other, or taking personal calls when they should be dialing for dollars? Make that clear in your policies. Include these policies in the employee handbook, and have every team member read and sign off on them.
Get monthly updates. Communication is key to avoiding conflict, which is why I suggest holding monthly staff meetings. Team members should be prepared to provide an update on their systems during these monthly gatherings. Take the time to talk about each system and how you can make improvements – but don’t stop there. Delegate employees to pursue strategies discussed in the meeting, and then set deadlines. This gets everyone involved in strengthening the practice, and will also help make sure everyone is on the same page.
Stop trying to avoid it. No, you didn’t become a dentist to deal with these types of situations, but that doesn’t matter. You have to embrace your role as CEO and address conflict as soon as you notice it. If you don’t, it will only damage your practice. Team members will continue their passive aggressive behavior, and will become more and more disconnected from your practice.
Unresolved conflict may even lead to turnover, meaning you’ll need to spend time and money to find replacements. And trust me, even if you choose to ignore conflict, your patients won’t. The negative atmosphere will leave them looking for a new dental home, cutting into your production numbers and bottom line.
Your team members look to you for guidance. You’re the leader, and you must step in to help resolve conflict when it arises. This might make you uncomfortable, but it’s part of owning a dental practice. Once you work with team members to come up with a solution, you’ll see positive change in your practice. Team members will be happier, more productive, and focused on helping the practice succeed. Your practice will become more efficient and patients will be more likely to entrust you with their dental care.
I know dealing with staff conflict isn’t easy, but remember I’m here to help. Don’t let conflict damage your practice. Instead, face it head on and work as a team to squash it. Your practice will be stronger for it, and that means increased production and a more robust bottom line.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Increasing Efficiency While Reducing Stress
It is fairly safe to say, and make sure you are sitting down for this one, your patients would rather not be in your office! Going to the dentist unfortunately falls in the category of a necessary thing to do. Your patients might be pleasant and seem like they’re enjoying themselves, and there is a lot you can do to make their experience a relatively positive one, but sadly, they would likely rather be somewhere else. With this reality in mind, let’s look at some ways you can help lead your practice and your team to maximize efficiency so your patients spend as little time as they need to in your office. This will in fact help ensure they keep coming back, and they may even tell their friends to come as well!
1. Know how long procedures really take. Do you guess about the chair time for procedures? Dentists may underestimate the time needed for a procedure because they only think about the time they spend with the patients, while assistants, on the other hand, may overestimate the time because they factor in the room setup and breakdown, lab work, and sterilization of instruments.
Action Item: Take a two-week time audit to determine your true chair time.
2. Train assistants in all expanded duties. One of the most common ways time is wasted in the dental office is when the dentist performs procedures that, by law, an auxiliary could perform. The best dental assistants are generally happiest when they are allowed to perform all tasks that are allowed. Not solving this one cripples your clinical efficiency.
Action Item: Have a meeting with each dental assistant to create a training plan (within the confines of your state law). You may consider hiring one of the instructors from a local dental assisting school to come in during off hours to train your assistants.
3. Have an assistant for every chair. Many offices become inefficient and create team chaos with the “extra chair” phenomenon. Somehow, a false belief exists that an extra chair magically creates more efficiency. This paradigm brings about time-management stress for practices that follow it. Most dentists (unless you are an orthodontist) are more efficient with two chairs and two assistants dedicated to those chairs - not “rovers.”
The third chair can be efficient if the chair is staffed by a full-time assistant who is highly trained in all expanded duties and can function almost independently. The dentist visits the chair much like he or she does a hygiene chair for exams. The assistant has a schedule for this chair, though not as full as the hygiene chair. The schedule has openings so the assistant can respond to any emergencies (see item #4).
Action Item: Review your current chair and staffing paradigm and discuss the chair utilization in your practice.
4. Make sure your office handles emergencies efficiently. Many practices become totally derailed by emergencies. Each practice must determine its own philosophy about emergency patient care. Does your practice have a community commitment to see all emergency patients? If so, you will need to ensure time is set aside each day for emergency patient care. If your practice does not have such a commitment, you should still discuss a plan for emergencies, which might look like one of the following two models:
Model 1 - Set aside a fixed time each day for emergencies. This time may vary from day to day or be at the same time every day. You wouldn’t want your already-reticent patients to have to wait excessively if they’re experiencing a dental emergency. By having a special time reserved for this purpose, you are taking quality care of your patients.
One option would be to designate a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the afternoon for emergencies. Programming this time before or after lunch gives the doctor a longer lunch break and provides the staff with an opportunity to catch up if no emergencies occur.
Model 2 - Review the schedule every day to determine the best time to schedule emergency patients. Inform staff, so they can communicate these windows of time to any emergency patients they may encounter.
Next, determine who does what for the emergency patient. Often, the dentist becomes involved in a lengthy conversation with the patient. Dentists can train their assistants to provide education about treatment choices. If the patient stays for treatment, it should be worked into an opening in the schedule; not take time away from regularly scheduled patients.
Action Item: Establish your practice emergency patient paradigm and set up a specific procedure to see emergency patients. Be sure all staff members understand the emergency philosophy and the emergency patient procedure.
By focusing on these four aspects of your practice, you and your team can become more efficient, as well as reduce stress. Take one action step per month and you will see a big difference in the clinical efficiency of your practice.
Dr. Gale provides coaching and training to enhance leadership skills, interpersonal communications and team building. If you would like to learn more, contact him at email@example.com
Help, My Patients Want to Talk Politics!
Although the presidential election is a year away, interest in the possible candidates and issues that may dominate the dialogue are front and center right now. Local and state elections will also be occurring with their complement of contentious topics! Whether you are intensely interested in the political process or start “tuning in” a little later in the election season, engaging in political talk with patients is not advisable. We have all heard the axiom, “Never discuss politics or religion with patients, it only leads to problems.” This is as true now as it ever was. However, what can you do when your patients bring up the topic during your hygiene appointment?
Say something non-committal and then change the subject. Mr. Patient comes in for his recall and right away starts talking about the debate he watched on television the night before. He asks if you watched and wants to know your opinion. You suspect that Mr. Patient will not agree with your actual assessment of the debate and you want to avoid talking about it. Even if you suspect Mr. Patient might agree with your opinion, you know this is not a proper discussion for the office. We want all of our patients to feel comfortable and accepted in the practice. Potential political divisions are not helpful in this regard.
A possible conversation might go like this:
Mr. Patient: Did you watch the debate last night? What did you think?
Then you pick up your instruments and get to work. If he brings the topic up again, try again for the soft response.
Patients may also be involved in different types of political fundraising. They might want you or the doctor to contribute to a cause. While it is not the most appropriate thing for a patient to solicit for donations during their appointment, it may happen. This is very tricky! If you disagree with the cause, you won’t want to donate. Even if you agree with the cause, you might not be in a position to donate. If the patient starts in with the dentist it can be even more difficult. Patients may not accept an explanation that the dentist is not able to afford a donation right now, and the dentist may not want to say that in any case. Tell the patient you would like to think about it and then change the subject. If possible, alert the dentist before he/she goes in to greet the patient, giving the doctor time to prepare.
Mr. Patient: I am a supporter of the XYZ political fund. We are looking for more donations to support our work here in town and across the nation. Can you give us a small donation?
You: I have heard of that fund. It would be great if you could give me some information. (Smiling) I would like to think about it. How has that tooth on the lower right side been feeling?
Mr. Patient: Dr. Smith, I am a supporter of the XYZ political fund. Can you give us a small donation? (Dr. Smith knows this may happen because you provided a warning about the situation before he entered the treatment room.)
Dr. Smith: I have heard of that fund. Please give the information to Nancy at the front desk. She handles all of my donations. I typically try to make donation checks once a month and she helps me keep the details straight. (Smiling) Thanks for letting me know about it. Now, how is that tooth on the lower right side feeling?
Some patients might even be highly involved in a political group or activity and ask you or the dentist to get involved as well. If this happens, say you need to get more information and change the subject.
Mr. Patient: I am against XYZ and my group is going to picket at the XYZ site next week. We are looking for more picketers and know that you would probably like to be included. Can you meet us there at around 9am?
You: I will need to get more information before I commit to something like that. I will have to let you know later. Now, it looks like your bleaching at home has been working well. Have your teeth been sensitive?
Dealing with political issues at work can be very problematic, and it looks to be on the rise during election season. Being prepared with some answers can help reduce problems and give staff options as to how to respond in a tactful way.
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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