Emotional intelligence as a tool to surviving in a toxic dental office environment
Working in a toxic office environment is never good, but there are tools that can help you get through each day. Learn more about emotional intelligence to help you cope.
What if you live in an area where there are only a few dental offices? Rural America has a lot of small towns, and if you live in one you may have limited choices for employment. What if you live in an area that’s in the middle of an economic downturn, and you need to keep your job because there are no other jobs in the area?
Add to these less-than-ideal situations a toxic office environment. The boss is demanding but provides very little leadership. The staff is not a team, and each person guards his or her own territory. There may even be a bully in the office. It’s the type of place you dread having to go to each morning and are glad to leave each evening.
I hope this is not your situation, but I know some of you reading this can identify with this situation.
Learning ways to survive this environment is essential to your long-term health and well-being. Although the best solution is to leave the job, there are a few techniques that can help you cope with a bad situation, and they start with emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence begins with looking inward at yourself. Then you can apply your insights to improve your situation and learn how others act.
You first have to know yourself and how you react to outside forces. Find a time when you can be reflective and study your own emotions. Create a diary of your emotions for a few days, writing down activities or interactions with coworkers, and how you reacted to each incident. This may take several days because you can’t stop and write every time you interact with someone. It is more about becoming aware of good and bad interactions and your reactions to each situation. You can reflect on what sets you off and what makes you feel good.
Next, you need to evaluate why you react the way you do. What is your role in this reaction? Is there something you can do to deflect the interaction? Can you do things to make this interaction better? If not, how can you avoid or have fewer of these encounters?
How you react to negative encounters is the first step toward improving your environment.
Next, you need to try to understand your team members. Using the same inner reflection you applied to your own reactions, look below the surface at each person who creates stress for you. What is going on in their lives? Are they enduring the same set of circumstance that led you to stay in this office? Are they threatened in any way by how you react to them?
After you look at your reaction to the rest of the office, you need to create a strategy on how to survive. Weighing all factors, you find out the situation has very little to do with you and is caused primarily by other team members. As an example, let’s say it’s the doctor who’s the problem. Let’s also assume that the doctor is not going to change his or her behavior. The doctor is dogmatic about certain things, and openly critical at inappropriate times. What do you do?
First, try to figure out the triggers that cause the bad behavior. Avoid those things whenever possible. Second, figure out if there is a pattern to the behavior, a time or a certain procedure that is a trigger. If possible, discuss this phenomenon and try to engage with the doctor to work around these situations.
If these strategies fail, your only recourse is self-preservation. You will have to build up protective barriers to save yourself. I do not mean to disengage totally from the work you’re paid to do, but you’ll need to shield yourself whenever possible from the toxic and abusive behavior.
This may include finding a time during the day that you can be quiet and reflective, off-loading all the negative that’s been directed toward you and others. Find a way to avoid the most stressful situations that are a trigger for your discomfort. Also, look at the triggers that cause you the most stress and work toward defusing your negative reaction.
Inspirational leader Dr. Charles Swindoll wrote a much-repeated quote, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
Others have power over your emotions only if you allow them to have that power. Emotional intelligence is not an instant fix, but rather a process that starts with knowing your own emotions, controlling how you react, and learning ways to divert or deflect the negative and replacing it with what is positive for you and your situation.
Look inward. Reflect on what is driving your emotions. Control how you react, and you will become emotionally intelligent.
David Black, DDS, is the founder of Pinpoint Dental Consulting. He’s a dental business coach who helps dentists and their teams increase profitability, patient standard of care, and peace of mind through attention to key systems. A dental leader in local societies and projects, and state dental board of directors, committees and task forces, Dr. Black’s proven leadership and administrative skill were fundamental in developing a successful restorative and cosmetic practice. Contact him at David@Pinpoint-Dental.com.