Alert Patients to Benefits and Give Your Practice a Boost
Dr. Nancy Haller
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Conflict is an inevitable part of life and it does find its way into the workplace. No matter how hard you try, sooner or later your office will have some level of conflict; it’s inevitable. Conflict is not an easy subject to discuss, even when team members are getting along well. Nonetheless, unaddressed conflict will wreck havoc on your practice if you don’t prepare for it. As the dental leader, you need to be aware of and be ready to deal with disputes when they arise among your team members and patients.
There is not a “best” way to deal with conflict. It depends on the current situation. But you can improve your leadership effectiveness by becoming more aware of your own conflict style. In turn you are able to recognize the conflict styles of others and manage problems before your office becomes a war zone. There are generally five key ways (or modes) for dealing with conflict:
We tend to use this mode when it simply is not worth the effort to argue. Behaviors such as withdrawing and sidestepping are signals of avoidance. In the short run, avoiding does reduce tension and it can buy you time. Unfortunately, this approach tends to worsen the conflict over time. Decisions are made by default and issues fester.
When we give in to others, we show reasonableness and create goodwill. Accommodation also helps keep the “peace.” However, this style needs to be used sparingly and infrequently. For example, in situations when you know that you will have a better approach in the very near future, it might be wise to accommodate. Over time, however, accommodating tends to worsen the conflict, and causes conflicts within you. People who repeatedly give in to others have limited influence.
Arguing or debating, using rank or position, and standing your ground are all competing behaviors. So is asserting your opinions and feelings. As with all the conflict styles, there is a benefit to competing. For example, when you have a very strong conviction about something, competing may be appropriate. Unfortunately this style prevents clarification or discussion because the goal is to get your own way no matter what. If you are overly competitive there will be a lack of feedback, reduced learning, low empowerment, and you’ll be surrounded by “yes people.”
This is a mutual give-and-take process. The intention is to get past the issue and move on. Negotiating, finding a middle ground, and making concessions are reflective of compromise. When you compromise you give something up. In this respect, too much reliance on compromise is only a shade away from accommodation.
The main goal of collaboration is to work together. Use it when it’s important to meet as many current needs as possible with mutual resources. This approach cultivates commitment and esprit de corps. Examples of effective collaborating skills are listening, understanding and empathizing. Underlying causes of conflict can be identified through mutual input. However, over-use of collaboration can result in spending too much time on trivial matters and diffused responsibility.
The reasons we use different styles varies. We often avoid when we don't want to get involved, or we decide it's not worth the effort to pursue. It's important to pick your battles, since they can't all be fought and won. We accommodate when we want others to like us or we like things to run smoothly or we don't feel like we have the right to remind others of their responsibilities. We compete when we strongly believe in our ideas. We often compromise when we are in a hurry. We use collaboration when we want everyone involved to feel ownership for the outcome.
Each conflict situation offers a wide range of choices - choices in how you choose to frame or interpret others’ actions and behavior, and choices in how you will respond. With awareness and foresight, you can choose to act from a rational approach based on an objective evaluation of what is happening and what is most appropriate, rather than on reflex or just the pure emotion of the moment.
What are your conflict mode reflexes? That is, which of the five modes do you automatically go to first and/or most frequently? Which mode(s) do you seldom use? Which mode(s) do your employees appear to use to deal with conflict? When you recognize how you and your employees deal with conflict, your effectiveness as a leader will increase. Encourage your employees to acknowledge, deal with, and appreciate their disagreements. Don’t let your office become a battleground. Dealing with conflict up front leads to open communication, conscious cooperation among your employees, and increased productivity!
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
My first two columns for the McKenzie Newsletter spoke from a patient’s perspective about what we ought to expect from each other as we develop our collaboration. It’s remarkable that we need to articulate all this as though we’re negotiating a peace treaty; after all, we really do need one another, even if we don’t necessarily want each other. Let’s face it, some days all you get are the patients who’d rather be somewhere else, and I’d venture to guess that if you line up a few of those days back to back, you’d rather be somewhere else too – but that shouldn’t happen! Ultimately, we’re on the same side and we need and want the same things. We have common purposes and common enemies. To fight together, we need to understand each other. But as I asked last time, how do we communicate all this with each other?
Fighting Our Mutual Enemies
My biggest enemy is systemic illness. It’s yours too, because in the end that’s what your work helps me to fight. A typical patient like me is pushing back against incipient serious illness all the time. My mouth is an incubator for microorganisms that start them. If I take reasonable care of it, the illnesses they can cause are kept more or less at bay. If I don’t do the basics - brushing, flossing, rinsing, and regular checkups - then I’m leaving myself wide open for an invasion of problems I need not have.
How many of your patients understand this? How many of them don’t exercise reasonable care? Have you ever taken a moment during a regular appointment to help a patient get the big picture that you can see when you look to their mouth? A compliment to me about good work or a suggestion about improvement might make a big difference. Yes, I know, sometimes the advice is unwelcome. But you don’t need to proselytize. Just a few words, a little encouragement and a reassurance that you’re there for me, will go a very long way. My enemy has a few allies helping in its cause. If systemic illness is out to get me, its friends are helping: Fear and Denial. I can’t fight them by myself, and neither can you. We can beat them if we work together.
Fighting Fear and Denial
Fear thrives on silence. What you don’t communicate, I don’t learn, and what I don’t know is the dark corner where fear lives. If you don’t talk with me, fear does, whispering all kinds of evil distortions and exaggerations about what you’re doing. Fear might suggest to me that your good efforts aren’t worthwhile. Fear might whisper to me that I can do without you, that anything I suffer out of your chair is better than any suffering I endure in your chair. Fear will tell me that your drills are bludgeons and your syringes daggers. Fear will lie to me and make me feel it’s my only protector, when really it’s protecting the pathogens in my mouth.
Fear’s cousin is Denial. Denial will tell me that Fear isn’t there at all, and that those fearful undertones are just my own healthy self-preservation and skepticism. It will tell me that I’m invulnerable. My bad habits won’t catch up with me. My neglect won’t matter. I won’t get sick, it’ll say, just because I don’t take care of my mouth.
Winning over Fear and DenialOf course, Fear and Denial are really worried about the short term pain and suffering that happens in a dental chair. They have no view at all of the long term; they don’t want to look there. You can help me here, and help yourself too, by guiding me to look ahead, beyond this hour, beyond the fear and denial I brought in to this appointment. What happens in your chair in this appointment has consequences I want. It’s more than a repair or a cleaning. It’s an investment in my overall health. I might not understand that, but you do.
I may have spent a lifetime in the company of Fear and Denial by the time I see you. They might be sitting in the chair with me. But as influential as they’ve been, you have advantages over them. You have experience, training, reason, and caring. They aren’t as strong as you are, and certainly not as strong as we can be together. If you talk with me, that is when we fight as one.
Next column, I’m going to talk about where that happens and about what can be, for us both, the best part of the appointment: the Golden Five Minutes.
On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations. He can be reached at email@example.com