Get Your Head Out of the Sand:
Take a Stand on Conflict
The hygienist, Carol, got mad at the front desk, Lisa. They had words. Lisa cried and said that Carol jumped on her case and was rude to her. Carol feels that she just works her butt off cleaning teeth and smoothing problems over with the patients (problems they have had with the front desk about scheduling or getting phone calls about money). According to Carol all the front desk does is look at magazines, talk and tick off patients.
Conflicts between front office staff and clinical employees are common. However, the real problem in many dental offices is the tendency to avoid conflict. Dental leaders typically see these team dynamics as annoying “high school drama”. They bury their head and hope that conflict will just go away.
However, ignoring conflict doesn’t work! Bad feelings intensify. Things get blown out of proportion. Rumors flourish. Simple workplace misunderstandings become major obstacles to efficiency and productivity. Before long, the tension between Carol and Lisa escalates into an office battleground. This costs you inordinate amounts of money in staff-hours and in hidden expenses such as turnover, recruitment and training.
Why do you shy away from conflict? In most situations, you can never be sure what’s going to happen. People might cry, get angry, stomp out, get defensive, blame others. That’s a lot of uncomfortable feelings. And most dentists and their employees don't like uncomfortable feelings.
Another reason you avoid conflict is that you want everything to be 'nice' and pleasant, for everything to run smoothly, and everyone to get along. So, you don't do anything and hope it all fixes itself.
If you are going to have an effective practice, you absolutely need to deal with conflict head-on. That means being courageous. Accept those uncomfortable feelings and do it anyway. In many respects, resolving conflict is similar to how some of your patients feel about going to the dentist - they hate the idea of it, they wait forever to make the appointment and they are relived when it's over. In the end, it wasn't so bad after all. And facing conflict up front can prevent bigger problems down the road. Just like getting your teeth cleaned.
As the dental leader, your goal is not to make Carol and Lisa like one another but to be able to work together. You need to help them reduce the emotions and get to a resolution .
- Talk with Carol and Lisa individually. Be impartial, even-tempered and fair. Both employees will try to win you over to their side by blaming the other. Be neutral.
- Next, facilitate a conversation between Carol and Lisa. Identify common ground. In most cases, conflicted employees do not recognize that they share many of the same ideas and convictions.
- Open the conversation by reminding them about the importance of good patient care and service. Never try to humiliate them into a resolution. Comments like, "You're both behaving like children," or "You both have really disappointed me" are condescending and will create further resentment.
- Give each employee one minute to say what they want from the other. Avoid discussion about who did what to whom because that is completely unproductive. Keep the focus on solutions.
- Ask each employee to restate the other’s solution. Conflicts often begin over small details. Highlight shared viewpoints.
- Ask each to confirm the accuracy of the other’s restatement. Simply say, "Carol, is that what you said?" Each person needs to feel heard before you can move on.
- Maintain a problem-solving climate. Listen carefully to make sure you are getting a clear, detailed description of what they expect of each other. Be sure they are requesting specific and realistic behaviors.
- Listen open-mindedly to their suggestions since they will be more committed to solutions they come up with on their own.
- If their solutions are impractical, unacceptable or not forthcoming, you must offer your own opinion and solution. Offer any support you can to make the solutions work.
- Ask each of them to restate what they have agreed to do. This eliminates any misunderstandings. It's also a way to create a more binding agreement. End the meeting by scheduling a follow-up session. This lets them know you're serious about ending their conflict once and for all.
Help employees to open lines of communications. In some cases when the conflicts are serious or longstanding, it may be necessary to hire a trained consultant . Stop being an ostrich - confront problems calmly and quickly.
Does your team need a tune-up? Dr. Haller will conduct a detailed assessment of your office and get to the bottom of the problem. She will provide you with detailed recommendations and work with you, and your team, to implement needed changes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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