Why can’t we all just get along?

How to help solve team conflict and achieve team harmony in your dental practice

In my practice, I handle all major staff upsets. I have solved personality conflicts, he said/she said situations, tangles over closing duties and dozens of other tearful crises. However, I also train my staff and team leaders to solve these problems as well, so they don’t need me, but I’m available to help. We use approaches such as:

  • I messages:  “I feel _______ when you do _______”
  • Active listening: “So, what I’m hearing you say is _______”
  • Problem solving: a 5 step process

We train each of these communication skills through our training levels and I personally role play with my staff to help them learn each one.

That’s why I was surprised to spend each of the last two staff meetings helping my staff work through some team conflicts. I spent the first week’s meeting with the assistant team. We have about 5 assistants on the team – and although each one primarily assists one dentist, there are occasions (vacation/illness) where assistants end up working together that normally do not. So, it turned out that our summer vacation season was causing some drama because two different sets of assistants were having conflicts.

I spent the second staff meeting with the secretary team. I have about 8 secretary team members (and 4 of them are in levels 5+ which means they are super well-trained) and again, they each coordinate for a specialist plus work with our general dentists so everyone is nicely cross-trained. Since they sit and work closely together (4 chairs at one front desk and 3 chairs on the specialist side) attitude is everything – and one bad apple can really ruin the bunch. The group was feeling that one person on the team had a bad attitude day after day, and the little instances of negativity were building up. So, in their meeting we talked about specific situations so everyone could see what the problems are and then we talked about how the team felt.

In each of these teams, the problems were relatively small. These problems could easily have been ignored – “just an unusual schedule” for the assistants since they don’t normally work together, or “just a bad day” for the secretary. However, these problems weren’t going away on their own – instead they were building up and affecting the rest of the team. So, my role was to address the problems – I led each of these discussions and helped each team member to share a comment so everyone felt they had a piece of the discussion.

One thing I noticed in each of these meetings (with a staff that has been trained in communication) that each team got hung up with a ‘he said/she said’ situation. I witnessed 2 assistants and one week later, 2 secretaries literally saying the same thing:

You said _____

No, I didn’t! I said _______

Yes, you did! I heard you! You said _______

No, you heard wrong. I really said ________

So, if you want to achieve team harmony and solve dental office team conflict – then, you must stop this conversation! As we all know, this conversation gets us nowhere. There is no way to agree and no one wins. If you hear this in your office, then you must intervene. You can say,

Instead of talking about what words were said, let’s talk about how you each feel.

Then, ask one of them to start again with an I message – here’s an example: “I felt like you don’t appreciate my time when you asked me to take an x-ray for you when I could see an opening in your schedule at the same time.”  No one can argue with how you feel.

Let me say that again: No one can argue with how you feel.

Dentists and dental office managers can enjoy team harmony when no one can argue!

The good news is that after each of my teams shared their feelings and had some time to ‘speak their peace’ – everyone is feeling better. In fact, part of my job is to do the follow up. So, 2 weeks after any drama – I go back to the individuals and ask how they are feeling about things now. In both situations, I heard lots of positive comments. Hooray! On to next week.

For more ideas to improve the business-side of your dental practice:

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
1 Comment
  • Thanks for the script to use to stop the “You said/I said” drama. I’m going to use it Monday (needed it Thursday). My office is tiny-1 dentist, 1 hygienist, 2 chairsides, 1 business office, all female, with age and cultural differences. I know the “what do you each feel” script will work. Thanks.

    August 17, 2012