Thursday Troubleshooter: Is 'one big happy family' on the dental team a good thing?

The dental team 'happy family" is not license to hurt each other's feelings

Tt Sad Little Girl

QUESTION: I have a team member who says the team is like one big family so she can say whatever she feels…even if it is hurtful.

Tt Sad Little Girl

ANSWER FROM JUDY KAY MASOULF, Founder of Practice Solutions Inc:
Many dental teams use the phrase, "We are just like one big family" to describe their office environment. One would assume this to be a positive statement. However, in many cases I have found the opposite to be true. Many offices are indeed like one big family ... one big dysfunctional family!

Filtering what we say will help avoid becoming a dysfunctional family. For some reason we feel once we say we are a family we don't need to watch what we say to one another. We justify it by saying we are just being honest, or we have to be authentic to our feelings. After all, we can't help how we feel. (Oh really? Read my December 2013 newsletter.)

We lose our politeness and kindness toward each other. Our words are often direct and hurtful. We believe that because we’re like family, it’s OK to speak in a hurtful manner. We think our coworkers should just be able to handle whatever we say. The reality is that words cut deep and can destroy even real families. Don't we all know someone who no longer speaks to certain family members?

It is important to think before we speak to avoid jeopardizing a relationship. A big part of our job responsibility is to work well with others. We need to be respectful of how another person might feel. We need to treat each other with the same kindness and politeness that we would if we were on our best behavior with a stranger. Why not give your best to those you spend the most time with? Include “Must work well with others in a kind and respectful manner” as part the practice standards, and in every employee’s job description. In order for any team member to be a part of the team, they need to support the practice standards with words, attitude, and actions.

ANSWER FROM LISA MARIE SPRADLEY, FAADOM , The “Front Desk Lady” of TCB Dental Consulting:
I remember when I was a little girl walking with my younger sister to school. We pretended that we were going to the "Hostess Castle" to eat Twinkies and HoHos. Our imagination led us on many a grand adventure, but it was always a journey that we took together. That to me is what it means to be family. It is a safe place where everyone supports you and wants to be with you wherever you’re going. Obviously in this case, team members are taking what should be a safe, loving, and nurturing environment, and twisting it into something mean and hateful.

It is our job as family/team members to take back the true meaning of what it means to be a family, and make sure that only supportive words are spoken in our home. If corrective action is required, it should be given in a way that uplifts and not tears apart the fabric of the family.

How do we do this? We do this by not letting the person who is trying to "keep it real" have an impact on our day. The next time someone says or does something that is mean or hurtful, ask them to find one positive thing to say about the other person. Do not give up. If they refuse to find one positive thing to say, then tell them that unless they can find something positive to say they cannot say anything else at all. Remember that people are different. Not everyone is Positive Polly, and that's a good thing; but that doesn't mean that Negative Nellie gets to share her unhappiness with everyone. We should respect each other’s differences.

That reminds me of another family memory. My father always told us, "Silence is golden." We could all benefit from practicing that more often. I know personally that no family is perfect. However, there should be no safer place for us to be than with our family, and only we can make it that way.

Stay positive and be the difference that you want to see in others.

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Do YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed?


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Send your questions to megk@pennwell.com. All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

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