In the previous blog post, I looked at a study reporting the levels of satisfaction for dentists in different practice settings.
That got me to thinking: what about your staff’s satisfaction?
Conflict is inevitable in a business setting, and small businesses are particularly prone to interpersonal conflicts. Small businesses are also particularly prone to failing; one study revealed that 50% of small businesses fail within 4 years.
Some of the causes of business failure are outside any business owner’s control: severe economic downturns such as we experienced in 2008; natural catastrophes such as hundred- or thousand-year floods; and acts of sabotage.
But a particular cause of small business failure is conflict within the staff that harms operational efficiency, accuracy, and customer satisfaction.
If your practice is struggling, it may be due to conditions that affect most dentists such as increased competition from corporate dentistry, lower reimbursement rates, and losing patients due to PPO restrictions. Or it could be that your marketing isn’t doing the job of attracting enough new patients.
Or, you may be losing the patients you already have due to your staff.
A small business that is struggling financially is a very stressful environment. You may not know this, but the number one symptom of stress is irritability. And increased irritability is a breeding ground for conflict; disagreements that might normally have been shrugged off get blown into major arguments.
Even simmering feuds that don’t erupt into shouting matches have an impact on your entire staff’s morale. That lowers both job satisfaction and motivation, which your patients will inevitably pick up on.
That starts a downward spiral; as more patients leave your practice and aren’t replaced, appointments and collections decline and stress levels rise even higher, leading to more irritability and conflict.
Fortunately, mediating conflict between staff people is something you can do effectively.
Here are three tips to do just that:
- Clear the air.
As the leader of your business, it’s on you to take the first step by approaching the staff member(s) with the problem. Your attitude should be nonjudgmental, impartial, and solution-focused. If your staff has a problem with you, listen closely without reacting (internally or externally) until they’ve explained the issue fully, from their perspective.
Consider taking some time to think things over and then discuss it. That will give you the opportunity to step back and take an objective look at your own behaviors. It may be that you need to change something you do, or it might be that you need to explain the reasons for a particular action. Regardless, you’ll be calmer if you take some time before responding.
- Lead the discussion.
If the conflict is between two or more staff members, hear them out impartially and separately. Most people tend to hold arguments in their heads with people they dislike. That means that any live discussion between the conflicting parties can easily result in a well-rehearsed shouting match.
Once you’ve listened to everyone, take some time to think and then bring them together. Set some ground rules for the discussion, such as remaining solution-focused, civil, and open to other viewpoints.
- Find a solution.
Sometimes clearing the air without shouting is enough for the conflicting parties to put the issue behind them. Or, you may have to intervene by shifting work responsibilities to minimize contact.
If a policy or procedure is causing the conflict, task the affected individuals with developing an improvement.
If the issue clearly lies with one person, then corrective action is in order.
Some success factors are beyond a dentist’s control, but staff conflicts aren’t one of them if you discharge your duties as the leader of your business.