At the morning huddle, Debbie Downer gripes about the schedule … again. “Why is Mrs. Jones at 8 a.m.? We won’t have enough time because Mr. Timmons is coming in at 9:45. And this afternoon, we have way too much time for this implant seat.” She rants on… “On top of that, today our team meeting agenda includes a demonstration by the implant rep. Why do we have to do that on our lunch break? Nothing’s ever set up right in this office!”
Debbie Downer can be the doctor, assistant, front desk, or hygienist. The symptoms of whiners are typical:
- Whiners list complaints instead of presenting solutions
- They use words such as “never, always, nothing”
- They drain and zap the energy of the listeners
- Whiners cause good attitudes to drop and gossip to increase
- Like a pit bull, whiners will chew on a complaint, even if it’s been resolved. Whiner’s problems rarely go away and are not resolved in their minds
- Whiners often swear or rant
- Whiners whine with a whiney tone in their voice
- Controlling whiners may either give people the silent treatment or explode in anger
If this is allowed to continue, morale will go down. Whiners can suck the life out a practice because negativity can spread like a rampant virus.
What is an office to do with a whiner? Here are a series of five action steps to try:
Doctors, office managers, or team leaders: As a leader, ask yourself if you’re a whiner. Are you contributing to the situation? This is a tough question, but self-examination is important because attitude reflects leadership. Are you part of the problem? I know I’ve called myself on the carpet at times, personally chastising myself for being a whiner. Sometimes whining is a reflection of what’s happening in a person’s life. I recently had a tough family time, but I had to stop and consider how my whiney behavior was impacting my team.
Sadly, exposure to nonstop negativity can disrupt learning, attention, memory, and judgment, according to Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford University.
When negativity goes up, morale goes down. When morale goes down, production follows. Often the whiner has little knowledge of the impact his or her behavior has on the team and practice. The person needs to know specifically how their behavior impacts the practice. With clear, up front coaching, if the behavior continues, the person has made a decision. You cannot give someone a good attitude. Attitude is a choice. What you can do is clearly define boundaries of expected behavior.
If the negativity returns or the employee refuses to change, let the person go. Have a final paycheck ready and ask for their keys. Say, “It’s a business decision.” Don’t get sucked into a discussion about why. At this point, there is nothing you can say that will change this person. Have a witness present for the termination and also for the formal corrective review.
On a positive note, letting a person go can lead to a huge upswing in morale. Have you ever been in a situation where the negative person was suddenly gone, and the absence of negativity was so huge that there was a palpable change? Often, we don’t realize how much of a drain a negative person can be on the practice. I’ve experienced this feeling when I let a negative employee go. It’s not easy to do. In fact this type of action can wrench your gut and cause you to lose sleep at night. If you’re feeling like this, it’s time to change what’s happening in your practice.
As part of your change, I have a question for you. Do you have an excellent employee/office policy manual in your office? If not, contact [email protected]. Also, contact me at [email protected] for a copy of our personnel evaluation form. Then, make the hard decision to coach, correct, or dismiss. While taking these actions are tough, you’ll feel positive because you’ll be taking action.