How Did Things Get This Bad?

A referee isn’t the answer

I jumped in on a conversation that was streaming on one of the dental social media sites on which I participate. From what I could gather after showing up a little late, the question posed to the group was one in which there was an on-going feud occurring in one of the members’ practices. It was between a “strong” personality hygienist and a “want-to-take-charge” Office Manager. The doctor expressed his interest in wanting to keep them both, but really didn’t know how to resolve this problem. Based on what the latest “riff” was about, it appeared to me to be clearly a power struggle between them.

The way I look at these challenges is that the catalyst (or what perpetuated the challenges between them) is not always critical information to have in order to resolve their differences. It’s more about why they had been arguing and not necessarily what they had been arguing about.

From the little I had to go by, I felt as though they were having a power struggle. Their ultimate goals were the same–getting the patients to stay committed to keeping their appointments. The openings that were occurring at the last minute made the pressure and the stress of the moment take its toll on both of them. I did observe things that could have helped them both to be more successful, but I wanted to stay in my area of expertise so I really didn’t go into too much detail as to how they might remedy the issue causing their conflicts.

My suggestion was to have them work out their differences on their own, given a time frame in which they either come together and make amends without any future repercussions. Or if they are unable to work things out–remember that everyone is replaceable.

I feel strongly that unless the two of them come together without anyone else facilitating their truce, they and the rest of the team will never learn or understand that, as adults, childhood behavior is not acceptable. Behaving poorly sends a terrible message to the other team members, as well as the patients and there is no reason why adults in a professional working relationship should not be able to work in harmony.

I was shocked when the doctor who posted this thread responded with, “Well, I can’t leave them alone to cuss and scream at each other. I need a facilitator or “mediator.” Coincidentally I happen to be trained in Mediation and Arbitration and so I know that the purpose of a mediator is not to solve the problems, but to

guide the subjects in conflict to come to a decision on how to settle their differences on their own.

And how did this problem reach such proportions? Cursing and screaming at each other? Truly? How could an employer let their differences escalate to such a level? What about the team members that DO get along? How do they turn their heads the other way when they have to witness some of this aberrant behavior? Then there are the patients, many of them have had to observe these encounters.

My question is: How long as an employer, should you allow employees to not get along? If they can’t mend their fences and resolve their differences, then it’s time to move on. You are running a business, doctor. Who has time for this type of behavior in a professional environment? Why is it that you have so much difficultly abruptly ending this drama before things get so out of hand that it may require a referee?

Deb Roberge has been coaching and writing about dental team development and related areas for the past 25 years. During her onsite visits to numerous periodontal practices, she quickly recognized the very specific challenges that were prevalent in this particular specialty. She felt it was important to step up and support not only these clinicians, but the team members that work alongside of them, as well as the referring generalists and their teams. OurPerioTeam cloud-based software was created with Deb’s input along with perio practices and teams across the country. OPT is changing the way both periodontists and their referring generalists interact, as well as how they measure their mutual successes.

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