Squash conflict before it damages your practice

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Staff conflict is simply unavoidable. It’s going to happen from time to time, no matter what you do. The key is knowing how to handle it.

Many dentists ignore the tension in the air and pretend they don’t see the eye rolls or notice the passive aggressive behavior. They convince themselves the team members involved will work it all out on their own. The problem is, they usually don’t, and resentment continues to fester until it boils out of control. That’s why it’s so important for you, the practice CEO, to step in and offer guidance.

If you don’t squash conflict right away, it will damage your practice. But there are ways you can turn conflict among team members into positive change for your practice. Here’s how:

Have a positive attitude. With conflict comes negativity, and that brings everyone down—including your patients. As you’re addressing the problem, stay positive and encourage your team members to do the same. This will help you create a much more pleasant environment for both your team members and your patients.

Be strategic. All too often, people react to conflict with emotion, but doing so only makes the situation worse. Instead, be strategic. As you’re working out the problem, remember it doesn’t really matter who’s right or who’s wrong. Pointing fingers and placing blame won’t do any good, and it certainly won’t help you put an end to whatever is causing the problem.

You have one goal when dealing with conflict: resolve the issue causing it so everyone can move on. How do you do that? Sit down with the team members involved and have a conversation. Calmly talk with them about what is going on, then work together to come to a solution that both benefits the practice and makes everyone happy.

Put an end to gossip. Nothing fuels staff conflict more than petty gossip. When gossip runs rampant in a practice, it can do a lot of harm, making it important to stop it before it even starts. How? Make it clear that team members can only talk about their co-workers if they’re in the same room. If a colleague doesn’t honor this rule, team members should change the subject or simply walk away.

Have daily huddles. Encourage team members to bring up any problems they’re having during these morning meetings. This will allow them to work small issues out before they blow up into bigger issues. Daily huddles also help improve communication among team members, which could prevent misunderstandings from leading to conflict down the road.

Create clear policies. Take the time to write down how you want your office to be run and how you expect team members to conduct themselves during the work day. For example, if you don’t want team members to access their personal social media accounts while they’re on the clock, make that clear in your policies. Include these standards for professional behavior in the employee handbook, and make sure every team member reads and signs off on them.

Ask for monthly updates. The more you and your team members communicate, the less likely you’ll have to deal with conflict. Holding monthly meetings can help strengthen your communication. Have team members talk about their systems during these meetings, and discuss as a group how to make improvements. Then, take action. Delegate employees to pursue strategies brought up during the meeting, and give them deadlines. Doing this not only helps ensure everyone is on the same page, it also gives everyone an opportunity to do their part to move the practice forward.

Learn to embrace conflict. Even though it’s what most dentists want to do, ignoring conflict isn’t the answer. As the leader of the practice, it’s important for you to address problems as soon as you notice them. Yes, your team members are grown adults and professionals, but that doesn’t mean you should wait for them to work out issues on their own. If you don’t step in and help them find a resolution, the situation will only get worse. Team members will start to dread coming to work and might spend their off hours looking for another job. Patients will notice the tension and they too may seek out a happier environment for their next appointment, leaving you dealing with turnover, low patient retention numbers, reduced production numbers and a shrinking bottom line.

I know you didn’t become a dentist because you wanted to deal with these types of issues, but it’s part of the job. Even though it might make you uncomfortable, you have to find a way to squash conflict before it damages your practice. I suggest you start looking at conflict as an opportunity for positive change. Work with team members to fix the problems that led to the conflict, and your practice will become more efficient and stronger in the process.

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