Conflict. It’s as much a part of the workplace as staff schedules, lunch on the run, computer glitches, and good days and bad days. As long as there have been people working together, there has been conflict. The differing personalities, values, perspectives, and approaches that individuals bring to the office creates a potentially volatile mix that can either complement or cripple the effectiveness of the group. It all depends on how and if it is addressed. Ignore it and conflict will erode your team and your practice. Address it and conflict will strengthen your team and your practice. I recommend clear communication and individual accountability.
First, look at communication among the team. Employees may be in conflict because there is a lack of clear direction and information from the top or across the staff. Are the doctor and team members engaging in behaviors that are fueling conflict?
For example, doctors often feel that they are clearly communicating their expectations when they make general comments in staff meetings, such as, “We need to get a better handle on collections, or “I want the schedule to be more manageable.” But they don’t empower the team to take steps to address the issue, or they don’t hold employees accountable, or they don’t tell the employees what their expectations are.
Next, clearly defined job responsibilities are a must. Without clearly articulated responsibilities and expectations the incidents of squabbles, power struggles and other difficult circumstances only increase. With job descriptions, team members understand their individual roles on the team as well as their teammates.
Finally, don’t pretend that conflict will simply go away. Address it privately and directly with the employee(s). Be prepared to discuss the key points of the conflict as you see it, as well as possible resolutions. Be careful you are not swayed by rumor or innuendo. If a team member is complaining about the behavior of an employee, it’s important that you make an effort to observe the behavior yourself, rather than relying exclusively on the opinions of one or two staff members.
Give the employee a chance to express their view of the problem or conflict and offer possible solutions. If the employee has a voice in how the situation can be addressed they are likely to be more vested in making the solution actually work, rather than just carrying out your “orders” to fix it.
Monitor the situation and provide ongoing feedback and guidance. One conversation likely will not eliminate the problem entirely. In fact, you may find that the conflict reveals shortcomings in other areas that need to be addressed.
Additionally, McKenzie Management consultants find that if dental teams regularly follow specific procedures to address those day-to-day triggers for conflict they can significantly reduce disagreements and stress among the team, for example:
- Hold daily huddles to address routine issues that can cause rifts, such as placement of emergency patients both today and tomorrow.
- Schedule regular meetings with staff and follow a specific written agenda.
- During meetings, require each employee to report on the system(s) they are accountable for.
- Discuss what is happening with each specific system – scheduling, accounts receivable, recall, etc.
- Identify constructive strategies for addressing any concerns that arise related to the performance of specific systems.
- Assign deadlines and delegate responsibility to individual staff to pursue the problem solving strategies that have been identified.
- Insist that clear information be shared among the team. For example, give front desk staff necessary details on time required for procedures and charges associated with those procedures.
- Establish clear standards for professional office behavior. Do not tolerate destructive personal attacks among team members. Focus on systems and what is or is not working in the systems. Give employees regular feedback. And celebrate the success of both the team and the individual players.
Finally, if you simply cannot bring yourself to address the issues creating conflict in your practice seek assistance from someone who can. Left unresolved, conflict is a subversive and serious threat to your productivity, your practice, and your professional wellbeing.
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