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8 Tips to Help You Conquer Conflict in Your Practice
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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You know there’s no avoiding it. Conflict is going to happen in your practice. It’s part of daily life, and your practice certainly isn’t immune. Still, the thought of it makes you cringe, so you choose not to think about it at all. Instead, you go about your routine and turn away when you see even a hint of conflict within your team. They’ll work it out. You just want to do the dentistry.

If that’s your attitude toward conflict, we need to talk. Ignoring conflict within your team will only make the situation worse. It costs you time, money and maybe even employees. It kills team morale and makes your practice an uncomfortable place for patients to visit. Not exactly a recipe for success, is it?

Even if it makes you uncomfortable, you have to deal with conflict before it does permanent damage to your practice. The good news is, there are steps you can take to conquer conflict before it reaches a boiling point. Here are my eight tips to help reduce conflict in your practice and keep your staff members working as a team toward one common goal – your practice’s success.

1. Take the emotion out of it. Instead of reacting to conflict with emotion, react to it strategically. Privately discuss the situation with the employees involved and work together to come up with a solution. Focus on using a once negative situation to create positive change in your practice. Remember that it’s not about determining who’s right or wrong; it’s about finding a solution.

2. Choose to be positive. You determine how you react to situations. When conflict brings negativity to your practice, stay positive and focused on finding a solution. Encourage your team members to do the same.

3. Don’t talk about team members when they’re not there. If Susan is upset with Mary because she can’t seem to make it to work on time, Susan will likely let this quietly fester until it manifests into passive aggressive behavior, and that means gossip and snide remarks. To help put an end to gossip before it starts, tell team members to only talk about co-workers when they’re in the room. Encourage them to walk away from other employees who don’t follow this rule, or to change the subject.

4. Hold daily huddles. If you’re dealing with conflict in your practice, chances are you also have a communication issue. Morning huddles provide a great opportunity for you and your team to communicate and address any issues that could lead to bigger problems later. If the clinical team isn’t happy about the way emergency patients are being scheduled, for example, this is a great time to communicate that frustration and find a solution.

5. Hold your team accountable. Meet with your team members once a month to get an update on the systems they’re accountable for. Discuss what’s happening in every system and how performance can be improved. Too much unscheduled time last month? Work as a team to come up with strategies to turn it around. Clearly communicate your expectations, set deadlines and delegate individual employees to pursue the problem-solving strategies you outline in the meeting. This not only helps improve your systems, it helps avoid frustrations and conflict down the road.

6. Develop and share job descriptions. Not providing your employees with clear direction is a great way to create conflict within your team. Without job descriptions, no one knows who is responsible for which tasks or which systems, and that leads to frustration and power struggles. Detailed job descriptions provide clear direction, and outline each job’s role, necessary skill set and your expectations. There’s no question who’s responsible for what. Create clear job descriptions for every role, and share them with every team member.

7. Establish clear office policies. Develop policies that outline standards for professional behavior and how you want your office to be run. Not going to tolerate gossip in your practice? Make it part of your office policies. Include these policies in the employee handbook, and make sure every employee reads and signs off on them.

8. Stop making excuses. I know confronting conflict isn’t easy, but making excuses to avoid it isn’t going to make the problem go away. It doesn’t matter how nice Mary is or how long she’s been part of your team. If there’s a problem, you need to sit down with her and find a solution, together. You can’t pretend the conflict will fade away with time. The opposite is true. If you ignore it, it will only get worse.

Conflict is part of life, but it doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your dental practice. Instead of ignoring conflict, deal with it head on. Work with your team to find solutions, and both your team and your practice will be stronger for it.

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
Interested in having McKenzie Management Seminars speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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Carol Tekavec, RDH
Hygiene Consultant
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Advice from a Master Dentist
By Carol Tekavec RDH

A new year brings with it both a glance back and a look forward. Where have we been? Where are we going? We are also often prompted to reflect on our lives; personal and professional. Are we achieving the success we want at work? Are we taking the time to enjoy our families and friends?
The past year, 2014, marked the 20 year anniversary of the death of my husband, Mel. He was a general dentist, appreciated by his patients and staff, loved by his children and family, and respected by his peers. He was also a well-known writer and teacher.  The two of us spent many years on the seminar “circuit” as well as working together in the dental practice. We have an extremely large family, and had many obligations during those years. They were busy, stressful, full of significant accomplishments, and some of the happiest times of my life. When he died I received messages both from around the nation and from here in our hometown. His patients tell me they remember him well even today. He was quite active in the Academy of General Dentistry as well as many other organizations, and had achieved his Mastership in that group. He was very proud of that. Here are some pieces of his advice concerning work and life. I think they are good ones!

Your patients won’t care what you know until they know that you care.
I am unsure as to whether this saying originated with him, but I know that we operated under this belief every day at the practice. If your patients know you have their best interests at heart, they will be at ease. They will accept your treatment recommendations and when the treatment is rendered, they will heal faster and be happier with what they have received. Taking time for anesthetic to be fully realized, providing a neck pillow, offering a light blanket, lubricating lips so they are not chapped and peeling after the appointment, giving patients a break if they are getting tired, calling them at the end of the day to see how they are feeling...these are the things that make a patient say to their friends, “My dentist is the best! You should go to see him.”

Of course your treatment must be effective and long lasting as well. The nicest dentist with shoddy work is not going to go very far. Be that as it may, patients tend to focus on how they feel about you much more than about the tensil strength of the resin you use.

You can’t put a pack on a baby!
Imagine if someone who has no experience or ability to take care of the basics of a certain situation is given an expectation of doing even more to resolve it. For example: a patient who is not brushing daily should not be given a new brush, floss, perio-aide and rubber-tip stimulator for home care.  Instead, give a new brush and some definite instructions on brushing. Only after that habit is ingrained go on to the next steps. On a personal level, perhaps your teenage son is struggling with getting homework completed daily. Don’t suggest he go for Honors Math until this basic homework situation is resolved!

You can’t care more about someone’s life than they do themselves.
Often we want to help someone very badly, however, our efforts cannot be more than someone is willing to do for themselves. This can apply to patients who will not embrace their perio-maintenance schedule, or to family members who will not look to their own best interests. This does not mean we should stop trying! But if our efforts are not successful, the fault does not necessarily reside in ourselves.

Let’s do both!
I can’t count the times when I argued that we could not possibly do two various activities. I would say that we didn’t have the time, that we would be too tired, that it would be too hard, that it would be too expensive, that it would be silly, or that the sensible thing would be to simply choose one. Instead, Mel would suggest that we do both, and we made it work somehow. How grateful I am that this philosophy guided our lives and still guides mine today. We actually could do both, and doing so enhanced our lives in many ways, professionally and personally.

Dentistry is a demanding profession, but it is rewarding in many, many ways. Looking to 2015 with an eye towards success in business and at home can ensure that however long our lives endure, we are receiving the most from our limited and precious time here. This advice from a Master dentist may ring true for you and yours.

Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department?  Email hygiene@mckenziemgmt.com.

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Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Four Brain Workouts for 2015
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

It’s the start of a new calendar year, that time when we set goals for dieting and exercise. We make promises to lose weight, eat healthy food, spend more time with family, save money and the list goes on and on. Self-improvement intentions are noble. The trouble is that only a tiny fraction of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. What’s the secret to succeeding? Your brain.

In an experiment conducted at Stanford University, a group of students was divided into two ‘conditions’. The first was asked to remember a two-digit number and the other was given a seven-digit number. Both groups took a short walk and then they were offered the choice of a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit. The students who needed to remember seven-digit numbers picked the chocolate cake twice as often as the two-digit group. Why?

According to the researcher, the ‘extra numbers’ took up valuable space in the brain and accounted for a ‘cognitive load’ that made it much harder to resist the temptation of chocolate. It’s no surprise that changing habits involves an enormous amount of effort, especially in the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain immediately behind the forehead. Therefore it makes sense that THE most important goal to set this year is to work your brain. After all, the brain is connected to everything. Here are four of the best ‘exercises’ to train your brain to be at its best.

Learn Something New Everyday
Taking in and processing new information is the best workout for your brain. When you are actively learning you build new neural pathways. This is especially crucial as we age. Active learners also tend to have fewer cognitive impairments later in life. The key to learning actively is to be mindful and focused as you go through the day. Pay attention and be fully present. Ask questions and engage in thoughtful inquiry. Find a workshop, class or conference to attend. If you’re athletic, try a new sport. Or learn to play a musical instrument or speak a new language. 

Practice Your Breathing
Because our respiration happens automatically, we let our bodies breathe for us. Unfortunately we often get less oxygen than our brains really need to function properly. Breathing is essential to think clearly and make wise decisions. Practice breathing for at least 5 minutes every day. Breathe in slowly through your nose (4-5 seconds), and then out through your mouth twice as slowly (8-10 seconds). Deliberately focus on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. Then, during the day incorporate a deep mindful breath by using a cue such as a red traffic light, or just before you enter the operatory, or when you hear the hourly chime of a clock.

 Stop Multitasking
Your brain can only do one thing at a time well. When you constantly shift attention from one activity to another, or respond to every interruption from a smart phone beep or email alert, you make it harder for your brain to function effectively. You may feel more efficient, but you are actually overloading your brain. In addition to fatigue you are creating stress, and this produces the toxic hormone cortisol which inhibits the memory center of the brain.

The biggest culprit of multitasking is technology. Therefore take breaks from your smartphone, computer, tablet, video games and even television. Steel yourself against these distracting interruptions and allow yourself to fully focus on one task at a time. Even 30 minutes without distraction can lead to better brain health and improve your ability to concentrate.

Get More Sleep
Sleep deprivation has dramatic effects on the brain and how well it performs. When you haven’t had sufficient restorative sleep, your working memory struggles to perform normally. The brain has less efficient ‘filtering’ ability and that leads to poor decision-making and problem solving. That’s why normal job tasks take you twice as long when you’re tired. There’s also evidence linking a night of bad sleep to spikes in brain chemicals like serotonin during the day. Serotonin is elevated among those with depression, which may explain why you feel emotionally down when you’re fatigued. Strive to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Just imagine what the impact might be if you could tap into more parts of your brain to increase innovation, creativity, emotional engagement, vision, feelings of safety and belonging. And what would the impact be if you could guide your entire staff to do this too?

Wishing you a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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

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

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