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Thursday Troubleshooter: How to handle "that" dental staff person (think Debbie Downer)

May 18, 2017
This dental staff person is very happy with her office and coworkers. So, what's the problem? The problem is "that" staff person, who believes it's her job to drag everyone down with her.

Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Each week the experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: I have been at this practice for six months. It's a great place. Everyone is super happy and friendly. I was given the role of practice relations coordinator and have been asked to manage the office. (I do have management experience). So, I have implemented group outings and team building days to make sure we’re all comfortable with each other since we’re all pretty new.

However, the person who I’m supposed to be working hand-in-hand with is the one who tears down the team. She talks about everyone all the time no matter who it is, and she doesn't care if it's private or not. I talked to the doctor about it and was told to handle the issue. However, this person is our treatment coordinator and has been with the practice the longest. She is also the kind of person who would be very petty and make this a huge issue instead of making it better. Her gossip ranges from personal things that the other team members have come to her with and personal information about the doctor and practice. Help! What can I do?

ANSWER FROM DENISE CIARDELLO, cofounder of Global Team Solutions:
It is wonderful that you are in a happy and friendly practice, and the role that you’re fulfilling can have such fabulous opportunities to strengthen your team. It’s a role not often found in dental practices.

However, there is that “one person,” and unfortunately most offices have at least one of “those” people. Our society is quickly becoming impersonal, unhelpful, and downright rude. A perfect case in point is merely turning on the news Often the only bit of positive news is a 30 second blurb at the end of a newscast.

Once negativity enters your office, it's hard to stop. Sometimes the only way to really exterminate it is by showing the instigator to the door. It takes a concerted effort by all team members to quell, “No we can't, don't, or won't,” and change it to “Yes we can, we do, and we will.”

In your case, where there is one person who is petty, gossipy, and negative, it will probably be on you to handle the situation. It might seem like an incredible obstacle to overcome, yet the reality is that addressing the matter immediately has the ability to diffuse the situation.

I refer to this as Conflict Resolution 101, and it’s important to follow these two steps to a tee:
Step 1: Have a face-to-face conversation with her. This seems to be the hardest step for most because of the “what if” fears are very real.

Step 2: Follow the ground rules. Use “I” statements only, and there should be no personal attacks, no crying, and no raised voices. You are both adult professionals, and it is imperative that you behave as such. This is the part when Debbie Downer or Negative Ned might be surprised at the behavior or attitude that you describe about them.

Step 3: Decide on a solution. Ask for permission to point out the negative behavior when you notice it in the person in the future.

Everyone as a team should decide and agree that negativity is a problem and that everyone will work together to curtail it. A safe word can be announced that everyone can use in the event they hear any nay saying.

Everyone must be on board with the plan. Open vulnerability should be agreed upon and understood. Among team members, try to omit words such as “no,” “don’t,” “won’t,” and above all, “can’t.” Use the safe word whenever any of these terms are used. Try to replace “yet” with “but,” “try” with “can,” and “no” with “yes.”

Emphasize and celebrate the positive. It is much easier to work in a happy, friendly place. The operations of the practice will flow more smoothly, and I guarantee that your patients will feel the difference.

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

Send your questions to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring.

All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.

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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.