Deal with Conflict in Your Office
Conflicts between co-workers are a natural part of any business in every industry. However, the real problem in many dental offices is the tendency to avoid conflict. Employees who are drawn to a service profession like dentistry are often compassionate, sensitive people. When disagreements arise, the tendency is to personalize, to take a sharp retort as an attack. From there, mole hills grow into mountains.
Dental leaders typically see these team dynamics as annoying “high school drama.” They bury their head and hope that conflict will just go away. But 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 employees 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.
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.
It's understandable that you may be shy and hesitate to take action. After all, you never know what could 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 might avoid conflict is that you want everything to be 'nice' and pleasant, for everything to run smoothly, for 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 relieved 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.
Don’t let your office become a battleground. Do yourself (and your wallet) a favor. Address disagreements and problems as soon as they occur. Here are some recommended steps.
1. Adjust your Belief about Conflict
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
3. Listen, Listen, Listen
4. Be Curious, Not Furious
5. Work the Issue, Not the Person
Keep the attitude that holding different views is both normal and healthy to a group. Help employees to open lines of communications. Consider an off-site team retreat to improve understanding, tolerance and skills for managing disagreement. In some cases when the conflicts are serious or longstanding, it may be necessary to hire a trained consultant. The bottom line is this: don't ignore conflict. While negative outcomes are possible, well-managed conflict can improve working relationships, help drive creativity and improve productivity.
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