12 Steps to Conflict Resolution
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Conflict. It’s stressful, costly, generally unpleasant, and completely necessary to the betterment of your practice – provided that you manage it rather than try to ignore or suppress it.
Yes, conflict is a natural component of human interaction. It’s as much a part of every business as profit and loss. When it’s dealt with constructively and managed well, it can have a profound and positive impact on practice success. Conversely, when it is managed badly it strains relationships, fosters poor morale, encourages gossip and discontent, drains effective teams, and costs practices literally thousands of dollars annually.
Conflict often begins with a minor disagreement, an annoyance, or misunderstanding. Rick isn’t providing the production reports as promised. Anna is walking in late for the daily huddle at least once a week. Caroline is scheduling 60 minute patients in 40 minute slots. Issues such as those come up in virtually all dental practices. But too often they are dismissed as inconsequential and not worth the trouble of addressing. Yet they quietly cause frustration, irritation, and even anger among team members.
But because the employees are afraid to deal with the matters head on, they opt for the passive aggressive approach, engaging in gossip and whisper campaigns instead. “Rick is too busy with his online shopping to run the production reports.” “Evidently, Anna is spending too much time at Wednesday evening Happy Hour to make it to work on time Thursday morning.” “Does Caroline just enjoy messing up the day or what?”
Nasty comments and accusations quietly abound. Eventually, these little murmurs become a daily drama in the practice. Team members tune in to get the latest on this gripping saga. Until one day, the lid blows and those little incidents have grown into a huge unwieldy epic of character assassinations and false accusations. In a word, it’s ugly. And the damage caused can, in some cases, be irreparable.
Conflict may be a reality of living and working, but, managed correctly, it can become a constructive rather than destructive tool in the practice. When individual team members are given clear information, defined responsibilities, and are held accountable for specific outcomes, conflict can be minimized significantly. Employees must know what is expected of them individually and as a team. They cannot be expected to function effectively or cohesively without clear job descriptions and performance objectives. In addition, they must receive regular ongoing feedback in order to make corrections in systems and continuously improve and grow as contributing members of the team.
Moreover, when conflict surfaces, it must be addressed and not ignored. Take these steps to manage issues constructively and directly before they become full-blown battles:
- Establish clear standards for professional office behavior.
- Do not tolerate destructive personal attacks among team members.
- Establish clear office policies and follow them.
- Set aside time to address matters that are causing conflict. Talk to people, not about them.
- Identify the conflict triggers. If the scheduling coordinator is routinely slotting emergency patients incorrectly, assume she/he doesn’t know what you expect. Educate her/him. Help her/him to become more effective.
- Curb the urge to react emotionally and judge, criticize, or attack.
- Curb the urge to make excuses for not confronting conflict. She’s too nice. He’s too argumentative. They’ve been doing it that way forever. They’ll never change.
- Focus on addressing the issue rather than proving who is right or wrong.
- Admit when you are wrong.
- Choose to be a problem solver. Walk calmly toward the issue and work toward addressing it before it grows out of control.
- Take time to better understand each other’s personalities and how different personality types communicate.
- Choose to be positive. Anyone can criticize others and be negative in difficult situations. It’s the leaders and problem solvers, who choose to remain positive.
Certainly, as long as there are people working together there will be conflict. But managed effectively, it can enable the practice and the team to work both effectively and harmoniously toward achieving overall goals together.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at email@example.com.
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