Stop the negativity | Change the culture

Dental Office Manager Training

Does this exchange sound like it could happen in your office?

(Setting: Full staff meeting following a tense morning meeting)

Dr. starts off the lunch meeting by acknowledging how stressful and negative the morning huddle felt that morning. The discussion moves to how the practice can get back to being a positive place to work. Someone suggests having a carry-in during their next full staff lunch meeting and a hygienist grumbles,

“But I always have to work through lunch!”

(A month ago, this hygienist along with the rest of the staff had been informed that overtime was no longer approved, and yet she continued to stay clocked in for 10 hours per day. In six months she had amassed $6,000 of overtime.)

If you can imagine this comment being made by someone on your staff, then you may be ready for a change of culture in your office.


How to change the culture

Set a new expectation and be willing to confront

First, recognize there is a problem. Generally low morale and negative attitudes can sometimes be hard to identify simply because everyone can have a bad day. Glitchy computers and broken sterilizers can make even the most even-keeled team member frustrated. But once you sense that this is a day after day problem, its time to address it.

If the negativity is primarily one person, then a one-on-one meeting to discuss the negative comments and actions is the first step. Tell the staff person that you have seen several instances where they seem angry or upset and after describing them, ask how the person is feeling. Hopefully, they share an outside work stressor, and then you can move into problem-solving mode together. Or, if they say they are unhappy at work or with another person, then again you can continue to ask questions to get to the bottom of things.

No matter what the reason, you must set a standard and a deadline. The standard is no more negative comments or actions. You can stop the behavior at the office. And, you set a deadline to follow up. You could summarize this meeting by saying, “So, we are agreed that you are not going to make negative comments or do hurtful things any more, and we will touch base in two weeks to see how you are doing.”


Do positive things

You cannot just tell your team to stop being negative. If you focus on not doing something, it’s like telling someone to not think about a pink elephant. (A pink elephant just flashed in your mind, didn’t it?) Instead, find positive actions your team can take. Whether its planning a carry-in or decorating for a holiday, challenge your team to come up with something they can do that is positive, then find a volunteer to head it up (no matter how long you have to stare at your staff in the dead quiet of a lunch meeting) and give a deadline for when the event will occur.


Culture Change

If the confrontation of negativity sounds awful to you, remember that you are doing it for the greater good. You want your office to have a positive culture so you can hire happy people and focus on patient care. Your team will appreciate your efforts to stop negative comments and actions, even if you’re not handling things perfectly. In the end, the people will change or you will change the people.


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One of the biggest challenges to managing a dental practice is managing dental insurance. With dental insurance handled, then dental marketing for new patients becomes a primary focus. In today’s day of online reviews, handling patient complaints well is essential. As your practice grows, hiring dental staff becomes more important. With 18+ years of dental practice management experience, I’m open to your questions to help you run a successful dental office.

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
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