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5.9.08 Issue #322 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Nipping Employee Snipping in the Bud

Email from Dr. Gale:

Just when I thought things were going smoothly I got a phone call tonight regarding one person saying something about another person and on and on and on. What can I say to the entire team to nip this in the bud?

This situation is serious because it signals that the team lacks trust. Without trust, employees are afraid to communicate directly with each other about disagreements. They are unwilling to be vulnerable about their mistakes, fears and behaviors. They engage in this kind of political behavior that wastes everyone’s time. Without a climate of trust, teams are limited in what they can accomplish, and this impacts your bottom line!

The situation that Dr. Gale describes is referred to as “triangular communication.” I explained this in my last article.In essence, one employee complains about another employee to a third employee or, in this case, to the doctor. Everyone does it from time to time. We lack the courage to speak directly to the person and we want to avoid conflict.

Employees should try to resolve their own problems before coming to you. It may be that the McKenzie Team Retreat is the solution. That said, there are ways that you, the Dental Leader, can help your staff learn to constructively handle disagreements and differences.

First and foremost, when an employee complains to you about another staff member, do not be too quick to take sides. In all likelihood you only have one perspective, one side of the story. By staying objective you refrain from jumping into action and making a bad situation worse.

Depending on your team make-up, their dynamics as a group and the longevity of the conflict(s), use this situation to teach (a) the person who called you and (b) the rest of the team—BUT ONLY IF this is appropriate. Be careful because if this is primarily an issue with the individual who complains, you do NOT want to expand the problem into the entire team. By bringing it up with the whole team you could escalate the situation. If you step in and attempt to fix things, the problem could increase if the other employee feels that her co-worker has tattled on her and thus gets more incensed.

Teams have difficulty addressing conflict because comfort levels with conflict differ radically. Some people argue passionately. Some shout and even scream. Others are silent, hesitant to air even the mildest of dissenting opinions for fear of offending anyone. As the Dental Leader, one of your most important jobs is to develop your employees. Normalize conflict and help them to learn constructive ways of resolving their differences. A very helpful tool is the Team Dynamics book series on the McKenzie Management website.

Start by asking questions. Here are a few:

  • What have you said or done so far?
  • Why do you think she is angry with you? or Why are you so angry with her?
  • How is this affecting patients/customer service?
  • What could you do about this to make it better?

In this way, you guide an employee through a thought process about his/her own responsibility. You could role play it with him/her too. Suggest that he/she try out what he/she has “practiced” with you and then come back and let you know how things are going. In this way, you are not in the middle but rather acting like a coach on the sidelines.

Nipping employee snipping in the bud is all about creating healthy teamwork. Don’t let it go on and on, lest you find yourself in a real office battleground. Even the best teams have conflict and the office might be uncomfortable from time to time. The tendency is to want to fix things and make problems go away. However, by showing patience and strength to tolerate the discomfort, you enable your team to move to higher levels of productivity and profitability.

If back-biting and snipping are present in your office, contact Dr. Haller.

Dr. Haller is available for team building and dental leadership coaching. She can be reached at
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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