Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 10 Conflict 1

Dental staff not getting along? Here’s how to fix it

Oct. 15, 2015
Dentists cannot ignore staff conflict. It will eventually get out of control and affect patient care. It's never easy, but densit-bosses must take control of conflict situations. Sally McKenzie explains how.

You’ve noticed the tension between a few of your team members, but you’re doing your best to pretend you haven’t. You didn’t become a dentist to deal with staff drama, and besides, you’re hoping they can work it out on their own. There’s no need for you to interfere.

While that’s how most dentists prefer to handle staff conflict, it certainly isn’t an approach I’d recommend. As the CEO of your dental practice, your team members look to you for guidance—and that includes when they’re not getting along.

Conflict is part of life, and there’s no way to avoid it in your office. Instead of letting it fester until it causes irreparable damage in your dental practice, there are steps you can take to conquer it, and you can even use it to spark positive change.

Here’s how to handle staff conflict before it gets out of control:

Don’t let emotions take over—React to conflict strategically rather than with emotion. This isn’t a time to point fingers or worry about who’s right or wrong. Take the team members involved aside and calmly talk with them about the source of the conflict. Then work together to find a solution.

Keep it positive—If your staff is experiencing conflict there’s likely a negative vibe in your practice, which could easily bring you and the rest of the team down, not to mention the fact your patients will notice. Just remember that you choose how you react to situations. Stay positive while focusing on finding a solution, and encourage your team members to do the same.

Hold daily huddles—These meetings can do wonders to improve communication with your team members, giving them an opportunity to address issues before they lead to bigger problems. If your hygienist is frustrated about how her days are being scheduled, for example, these meetings can give her the chance to communicate this frustration so you can start working toward a solution.

Don’t talk about team members behind their backs—Put an end to gossip and snide remarks before they even start. Tell your team members to only talk about their coworkers if they’re in the room, and to walk away from other employees who don’t follow this rule.

Create job descriptions—Conflict often stems from team members not having clear direction. If they have no idea who’s responsible for which systems and tasks, it can lead to frustration and power struggles as they try to figure it out. To avoid this in your practice, create detailed job descriptions that clearly outline each job role, necessary skill set, and your expectations. Share these job descriptions with every team member so there’s no room for confusion.

Hold your team accountable—I recommend meeting with team members once a month to get an update on their systems. Talk about each system and work as a team to find ways to make improvements. Set deadlines and ask employees to pursue the strategies outlined in the meeting. This will not only help keep everyone on the same page and avoid conflict, it will also go a long way in strengthening your systems.

Create clear policies and stick to them—If you haven’t already, establish policies that outline standards for professional behavior and how you want your office to be run. Once developed, include these policies in the employee handbook and make sure every team member reads and signs off on them.

Stop ignoring conflict—No one likes to deal with conflict, but unfortunately it’s part of life. Ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. No matter how uncomfortable it might make you, you have to deal with team conflict and the passive aggressive behavior it brings before it festers out of control.

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There’s simply no avoiding it. You will have to deal with team conflict at some point. But it’s how you deal with it that matters. Ignoring it will only make it worse. Instead, help your team members identify the problem and work together to find a solution. Look at conflict as an opportunity to improve your practice. This will not only strengthen your team, it will encourage them to work together toward one common goal—creating a successful, profitable dental practice.

Still not comfortable dealing with team conflict? Consider contacting me and taking my Conflict Competency training. This assessment instrument deals with conflict behaviors in the workplace and can help you and your team members improve the way you respond to conflict.

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, which offers educational and management products available at Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at [email protected].