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Thursday Troubleshooter: This dental office manager really needs help managing her stress

May 7, 2015
This dental office manager has everything dumped in her lap. She gets little help from anyone else in the office. Her stress level is boiling over. What can she do. Two level-headed experts offer her some guidance.

QUESTION: I’m an office manager in a dental practice, and I’m wondering how you would suggest I handle the staff as a highly stressed out manager? I’ve read articles that suggest the management of an unhealthy practice might be the problem, but how should I manage my tremendous stress when everything seems to fall into my lap only?

ANSWER FROM LISA NEWBURGER, aka, Diana Directive at DiscussDirectives:
I feel for you. It’s really hard when you’re in management and you don’t have the support of your staff and possibly your dentist. But it can be turned around. Here are some of my ideas.

• Hold a one-hour mastermind group. Make sure you keep it on task. Be honest with the staff and tell them you need their help. Make this a safe place where no matter what they say, there will be no repercussions. Tell them how you’re feeling. I know it’s a risk since you’re in management. But think about it. Do you dread coming to work? If so, tell them why. Ask them how they feel about coming to work. What would make it a better place for them? Listen. Take notes. Don’t try to control the conversation. Just let them express how they’re feeling. Have them come up with suggestions for improvement. Explain that you have some tough things to do in your job, and that you’re all part of the same team.
• Before this meeting, inform your boss what you’re going to do. It would be preferable to hold this meeting off site, at the end of the day.
• If this makes you uncomfortable, good. No one ever grew from being comfortable.
• Take a look at your stress level. I’m a big fan of writing things down to see them on paper (not the computer) so you can see the truth about what’s going on. Is there anything in your life that’s overflowing into your workplace? If so, get a handle on it.
• Take a look at the issues you’re struggling with at work. Write them down as notes for the meeting, whether it’s tardiness, insubordination, or negativity. Do not call people out publicly in this meeting. Talk in generalizations. Specific problems should be addressed independently and privately.
• Throw questions out to the group, such as, ”We have a problem with passive aggressive behavior that patients are witnessing. I need your help figuring out how we can resolve this. What are your suggestions?” The key to this whole meeting is for you to talk little and the group to talk a lot.
• Keep control of the meeting. If it becomes a gripe session, make sure it ends up being productive. Just venting does nothing to resolve issues. Also, pay attention to the time.
• Take notes on ideas. Not who said what, but action items. Review at the end of the meeting what the action plan is. If you don’t, it may seem like a wasted meeting.
• Implement what is decided on in the meeting. You also need to keep the group updated with the progress.
• Schedule a follow-up meeting for four weeks later. Ask the staff to do a survey (anonymous and free) and answer a few questions to honestly assess if things have improved.

Good luck!

ANSWER FROM JUDY KAY MAUSOLF, Founder of Practice Solutions, Inc:
You can’t effectively lead a team if you’re stressed. So I will focus on helping you manage your stress level. Stress affects health, happiness, and success in life. Our level of success in life is defined by our level of happiness, and our level of happiness is driven by the level of stress we feel in our day-to-day routines. Stress can make us or break us, and it’s always up to us to decide which it will be. I want to go deep enough to create clarity, so this is a long answer.

Let's start with the myths about stress, that stress is something that happens to us, or that someone made us feel stressed. The reality is that stress does not happen to us, it is manifested by us. It is not what is happening or not happening or who does what that causes our stress. It is how we think and respond to the situation that causes our stress. Whether we feel stress is always subject to our mindset. Stress is self-induced. It is our viewpoint of the situation that determines our stress level!

There are four common stress triggers that we most often manifest. We can remove the stress in our life by identifying and overcoming these triggers.

The first stress trigger is what if. We worry and agonize about what if this happens. What if they don't like us or don't accept us. What if I’m not good enough? What if I fail? The stress of what if weighs heavily on many of us. When you start to feel yourself spin into the what if cycle: stop ruminating, breathe deep and count to 10 slowly, observe emotion and then let it go, start thinking and processing, and make a plan.

The second stress trigger is the should trigger. We constantly stress ourselves with negative self-talk. We become critical and think, “I should do this, I shouldn't have done that.” The more we do this, the more we start to doubt our worth and what we can accomplish. When we get into the comparison trap someone always ends up losing, usually us. When you start to should on yourself and others: stop being a wallower that complains, criticizes, blames, gossips and compares. Instead be a creator that focuses on what is positive in your life. Finally, replace the word should with could.

The third stress trigger is the perfection trigger. We stress about doing everything perfectly. This paralyzes us and can stop us from taking even the first step. Or we put everything on our plate because we don’t believe other people can do it as perfectly as we can. We stress out of fear of things not being done just a certain way, which means our way. You mentioned everything falls on your lap. The question is why? Is the team properly trained? Do you delegate? Are there clear expectations for accountability?

The reality is none of us can start from perfect. Success comes only after mistakes. We will never become the person we could if we limit ourselves to perfection. When the perfection trigger starts judging you: strive for excellence, not perfection, which means doing the best you can, set high standards, not impossible standards, learn from failure instead of being devastated, correct mistakes instead of dwelling on them, and show appreciation by giving positive feedback.

The fourth stress trigger is the doom and gloom trigger. You become pessimistic and stress about life. You see the glass as half empty. You believe life is full of adversities that happen just to you. You believe the bad things will continue to happen throughout your life and they will affect everything you do.

Your beliefs generate your feelings and your feelings determine your outcome. When the doom and gloom trigger hangs over your head: dispute the negative limiting beliefs, verify accuracy (is this really true or just a story I created from my past?), identify three positives, and take action steps to support the positives.

When you identify the triggers, you can take action steps to remove them. I like to visualize the stress as a monster sitting on my shoulder, and I remove it by saying, “See ya!” and flicking it off my shoulder. Slay the stress monsters in your life and become happier and more successful. Good luck!

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