4 myths about dealing with conflict in the dental practice

Dentists require a team of staff members to serve the needs of the patient. When everyone is busy, working together, there is room for conflict to arise.

Dentists require a team of staff members to serve the needs of the patient. When everyone is busy, working together, there is room for conflict to arise.

This article will look at how to avoid inadvertently creating conflict, common myths about interpersonal problems and ways to resolve issues when they inevitably arise.

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It doesn't really hurt the team.

You're partially right, a little conflict is part of life and the price we pay for interacting as a human race. However, major and prolonged conflicts have a significant and negative impact on how the team functions and interacts with the customers. But don't be too cavalier: what may seem like small problems to you may mean a lot to the staff who work for you. Although you are busy with managing patient care and running the practice, understanding the challenges your team members face and how they deal with and resolve conflict externally is important for the health and vitality of your practice. A practice mired in conflict is neither a place that patients will return to for care nor a place that will attract top talent.

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Your office manager provides sufficient leadership.

It is true that there are many outstanding office managers and other de facto practice leaders who step in to handle situations when problems arise. However, as the provider, you are still the leader and are therefore looked upon regarding professional conduct. Never forget that everyone's eyes are on you, taking cues from your behavior on how they should behave in your practice. Where you lead, they will follow.


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You are not involved.

 As the leader of the organization, this is false. You set the tone for the organization and how the staff interacts with each other, industry professionals and patients. How you work with the staff individually and as a whole impact how they treat each other daily. In the worst of cases, your behavior may be inadvertently creating conflict, especially in cases of perceived power imbalances. Take a few minutes to reflect on how you interact with your team and gauge if this creates issues or inadvertent inequalities. It can be difficult to see these how these interactions may have negative consequents, especially in a busy clinical environment, but they can have a negative impact on your bottom line.  

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It will resolve itself.

 Many conflicts do resolve themselves however, if similar conflicts arise consistently or they become obtrusive to the practice or care, then it is time to take action and move the conversation into a private space. Although this may feel uncomfortable at first, addressing conflict in the workplace is key to resolving issues. If you have a conflict, try and understand both sides and get both parties together to talk it through. Find out the heart of the conflict. In many cases, small adjustments to procedure or lack of understanding or misinterpretation can be cleared up.

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Performing dentistry, leading a practice and managing a team is difficult enough without additional conflict. Create an environment with a clear escalation process, defined roles and a positive and open atmosphere are the first steps to limiting conflict. When it does arise, quickly and directly address it with the staff to preserve the team dynamic and prevent long term issues from forming.

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