Thursday Troubleshooter: Motormouth coworker drives dental staff and patients crazy
In the new Thursday Troubleshooter, the problem is that this dental front office manager simply never stops talking. Her coworker's work is suffering, patients are overwhelmed with her chatter, and the dentist/boss isn't doing anything about it.
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QUESTION:We have a very nice but very chatty woman at the front desk. There are usually two women at the front. The chatty woman never stops talking, mostly about nonbusiness issues. The other woman at the front can't concentrate on her work because she doesn't want to appear rude and ignore the talker. She has told the talker that she needs to do her work but that doesn't stop the talker. How the talker gets any work done is beyond me. From what I can see, she does very little work, and when she is working, she speaks out loud to herself about what she's doing. This makes it very difficult for the other front desk woman to concentrate.
The talker has been this way to some degree since I started in this office, but lately she has really gotten out of control. She has always been chatty with the patients waiting in the reception area, but now she immediately starts in the moment they walk through the door, talking nonstop with them about people they don't even know. When I come out to bring them into the operatory they have a look of relief on their faces, like I'm rescuing them from a very uncomfortable situation.
The doctor knows this is going on. His private office is close enough to the reception area that he can't miss it. He even comments to other employees about her, but refuses to do anything. The talker has been dropping hints that she wants to retire soon. However, she has been saying that for the past five years. I don't know if my boss is just waiting this out, hoping she really will retire or he simply doesn't want to confront her. He is not the kind of person who takes advice graciously and might not respond well to any staff suggestions.
This nice but chatty woman is driving the staff crazy and affecting the bottom line by not doing her work and preventing the other woman from doing her work. This affects everybody but nobody has the courage to say anything to the boss. The staff thinks this woman has some kind of mental illness that is causing her strange behavior. We all like her and don't want to cause trouble for her, but she's driving us crazy.
ANSWER FROM ANGELA CLAYTON, Clayton Consulting Services Inc.
It sounds like there is some conflict between you and the talkative team member.
First, I recommend bringing the issue to your boss’ attention. Be sure to explain to your boss specifically the issue you’re having with this team member, the negative impact it’s having on the practice, and what you would like to see as a resolution for the issue. If your boss dismisses you or does not want to get involved, then I recommend you go to the team member directly, privately of course, and having a conversation about your concerns.
There are a few things I’d like you to think about before going to the talkative team member.
- Conflict by definition is friction or opposition resulting from actual or perceived differences. Conflict is natural. It is not positive or negative, it just IS. So often people think negatively when the word conflict comes up. This stems from a misunderstanding regarding conflict, and miscommunication with the person in which the conflict is occurring. Once you understand that conflict is in fact natural you can take the appropriate action steps to resolve the conflict in a courteous and compassionate manner.
- Resolving conflict is not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about acknowledging and appreciating differences. This can be challenging when we’re experiencing conflict with someone because it can be hard for us to appreciate differences in others, particularly when it’s causing a negative impact. Do your best to set aside any biases and give the other team member the benefit of the doubt.
- Last but not least, anytime you have to address tough issues, do it with courage, compassion, consideration, and skill.It isn’t always easy to address conflict with someone, however, when you leave the conflict unsettled it can create more complex issues in the long run. Take the first step, be courageous, and address the conflict. It is extremely important to plan the conversation with the person with whom you’re experiencing conflict. Having a conversation on the fly can potentially lead to finger pointing and the blame game, which leads to ineffective communication and misunderstanding. The issue never gets resolved and both parties are typically upset.
Now that the foundation for resolving the conflict is set, I encourage you to take these steps when meeting with your talkative team member. Ask her if the two of you can go to lunch. Let her know that you have a concern and that you would like to discuss it with her in private. Name the specific issue. Use examples of her talkative behavior or situation that you want to change. Next, describe your feelings about the issue, i.e., when she talks excessively it causes you to feel overwhelmed, upset, frustrated, and more.
Clarify what is at stake (how it is negatively affecting other team members and your patients) if the situation does not change. For instance, other team members have to pull a larger workload because her excessive talking gets in the way of her work and becomes distracting for the rest of the team. Then, identify your contribution to the issue because no one is innocent and everyone plays a part.
Tell her what you want to resolve and be sure to acknowledge the value she brings to the team. Always find at least one positive trait she has (and why she is a valuable team member) and tell her how much that trait means to the practice.
Ask her to respond. Take the time to really listen to her response, and take notes so that the two of you can recap the conversation and you don’t overlook anything. Your goal is to seek a dialogue between the two of you so that you’re able to come to a full understanding of the issue and how to resolve it. (Dialogue here means two or more people moving through meaning). Discuss what the two of you have learned and what’s needed from each of you to resolve the issue.
Last, come to an agreement on what each party will do to resolve the issue. Determine how each of you will hold the other accountable for their actions and for keeping the resolution. Schedule another lunch date two or three weeks out with just the two of you as a follow-up. Bring your notes and discuss whether or not things have improved.
Remember, the key to resolving conflict is effective communication. Good luck, and I hope this helps!
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