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Thursday Troubleshooter: How to stop dental team member's alpha behavior

Feb. 23, 2017
These dental team members have had it with this alpha team member interrupting and disrupting their work. Her behavior has led to patient complaints as well. What can they do?

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 a coworker who’s showing an attitude around the staff, and it’s led to complaints from several patients. She has a habit of telling the staff one thing and doing another. For example, I was scheduled to work an early morning appointment with an assistant, and the assistant in question was told she did not have to come in. Yet when I and the other assistant arrived, there she was in the chair assisting! We were very irritated, yet she didn’t think anything of it.

This person does what she wants, when she wants, and doesn’t give her alpha behavior a second thought. She’ll step into the operatory or front office and interrupt us in the middle of what we’re doing, even if we’re dealing with a patient. The rest of us agree this is disrespectful and unprofessional.

There have been so many incidents with her that the early morning arrival was the final straw. We as a team believe she needs to be reprimanded more firmly and then maybe, just maybe, she’ll listen and do her job like the rest of us. Everyone in the office is now being called in to talk to the dentist/boss about these issues. We would like for him to actually enforce some rules and office protocol to avoid this person’s constantly unpredictable behavior. We welcome any suggestions!

ANSWER FROM JAN KELLER, Jan Keller and Associates:
Having a fellow employee be disrespectful toward you is frustrating, to say the least. In this case it appears your employer is taking steps to discuss with team members what the issues are before taking action.

Here are a few things to consider: In your HR manual (let’s hope you have one), do you have a conflict resolution policy in place? Have these steps been followed, and if so, with a result? Are there policies and procedures in place when it comes to working hours? How, when, and where are individual hours posted? What is the chain of command?

When you have your individual discussion with the doctor, be sure to state facts and only facts. Describe the specific behavior that is upsetting patients, and give specific examples such as dates, times, the patients involved, and the behavior that this employee displayed that interrupted your time and concentration.

Your employer should have a conversation with the employee based on the facts presented to him and document how he expects the employee to improve her behavior, by when, and what the consequences are if her behavior does not improve. This needs to be specific, signed, and filed in the employee file. Most importantly, it must be followed up and followed through. Just because someone likes an employee, this should never equate to overlooking bad behavior.

As for you, ask yourself what you can do to help this employee improve her behavior. Discussing the situation directly and in private is best. It is not a good idea to try to enforce her behavior by discussing it with other team members. Gossip is never a good solution.

Recognize that many times employers ignore the effect one bad apple has on the whole bunch. It’s important for the dentist/boss to recognize the influence one member has on the entire team and the role the team has on the success or failure of the practice.

While this may not help with your current situation, keep these points in mind for future hires:
• Have clear expectations about proper behavior from the beginning of employment.
• Make sure the office has a great training plan in place.
• Deal with issues as soon as they arise.
• Handle conflict according to the HR manual:
• Have a discussion about the behavior that needs changing/improving.
• Document how to improve it.
• Give a timeframe to show improvement.
• Document consequences if this timeframe is not met.
• Appropriate parties should sign and date the document.

One final note: The dentist/boss needs to make a decision to be honest and thoughtful with each team member. He should hold private conversations when conflict arises by discussing the behavior, not the person. Team members need to do the work they’re meant to be doing to the best of their abilities. Good luck!

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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.