5.3.13 Issue #582 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Deal with Conflict in Your Office
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

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
Conflict itself isn’t the problem; it’s the way you respond that escalates or resolves conflict. Certainly we know what “bad” conflict looks like: verbal, emotional, physical violence. But remember that conflict can result in positive change. We gained freedom as a nation in 1776, it enabled us to abolish slavery and women gained the right to vote. Accept that conflict is a natural part of life and deal with it upfront.

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Nothing gets resolved if people stop talking. Rather than trying to stop conflict, meet it head on. Explore what’s behind the frustration or anger that people are expressing with their words or actions. Ask open-ended questions.

3. Listen, Listen, Listen
It has been said that we have one mouth and two ears because we are supposed to listen twice as much as talk. The power and value of listening, especially in conflict situations, is monumental. When you are in a discussion about conflict, rephrase what you hear to show that you are listening and to assure you heard correctly. Refrain from trying to “fix it” too quickly. Strive for understanding before resolution. Show empathy. Acknowledging employees’ feelings and motives is not the same as agreeing with them.

4.  Be Curious, Not Furious
Our natural reaction to conflict, especially if we feel threatened, is to become defensive. Manage yourself. Stay calm. Use a neutral voice, even if the other person is heated up. Move the discussion to a private area, especially if there are patients in hearing range. Give the other person time to vent. Don’t interrupt or judge what they are saying. Thank them for letting you know how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. Rather than attempt a premature remedy, agree to talk about it after a “cooling off” period.

5.  Work the Issue, Not the Person
When you are convinced that you fully understand the problem, acknowledge where you agree and disagree. Avoid blaming. Use “I” not “You.” Talk in terms of the present as much as possible. Ask, “What can we do to make things better?” Identify at least one action that each person will do, and get commitment for the plan. Set up a future meeting to discuss progress.

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.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club?Click here

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