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Managing Conflict Among Staff Members

KaVo Kerr Connections

Written by Dr. Terry Work

Managing Conflict Among Staff Members

A dental office can be a stressful place for patients. Some may be anxious about pain and financial issues. Good dental office personnel can help ease patient anxieties and make the office a more caring environment. As practitioners, we hold the vision of what we want our office to be. We want to create an environment where patients feel welcome, confident they are receiving excellent care and that its an office they would refer to a friend. Having the right staff in place is critical to realizing your vision as they are a is a reflection of your practice.  Even with the best team in place, issues do arise.

In dentistry, in order to have a good outcome, you need to have a good plan.  The same holds true in the area of staff harmony. It is critical to tell employees what is expected of them in addition to setting a good example.  There has to be a standard of conduct and clearly mapped out escalation path for when problems arise. An employee handbook is a great tool for managing employees and holding everyone to the same standard of conduct.

Every member of my team brings something to the table and each deserves respect for what they contribute.  All members don’t have to be “besties”, but they do have to act in a manner which helps the office achieve its goals. In my practice, there is no room for gossip and pettiness.  Some people seem to enjoy drama and in my opinion, a dental office is not the place for that.  However, issues do arise and you have to have a plan for handling conflict, which isn’t always easy. Growing up I had no sisters. As an adult, I live with my wife and we raised two sons. So for me, navigating an office made up mostly of women was a challenge. I know my limitations, and having a handbook to refer to helps me deal with issues consistently and efficiently. 

It can be very uncomfortable to address these issues, however it is better to do it in a controlled setting rather waiting for a “blow up” between staff members. As a leader, you can use some simple strategies to help manage conflict. When someone has an issue, it’s important to address it in a timely manner. According to an article published in Forbes, 4 Ways Leaders Effectively Manage Employee Conflict  explains that if you don’t handle the situation quickly, your staff may question your leadership. I ask that my staff make attempts to resolve the issue only with the person they are having a conflict with.  If they discuss the situation with someone else, it’s really just “gossip” and is not tolerated.   Staff members who have been at our office for a while know to redirect these conversations to someone who can provide a solution. If it continues, I may have to step in and I will guide them through our conflict resolution process outlined in our handbook.

Most conflicts are just misunderstandings that if handled early are very manageable.  It is when these problems are ignored that they become insurmountable.  The entire staff must be open to being “coached” and this includes the dentists.  As I mentioned earlier, when you lead by example it is easier for others to follow. 

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