Sticky situations: What to do when the dental assistant says she "feels like the maid"

Editor's Note: The following "Sticky Situation" was submitted by Dr. Wayne Pernell of the Pride Institute. It is the latest in a string of "Sticky Situations" submitted by the experts at Pride Institute.

Kelly has been a dental assistant for almost a year. She’s well-liked by the team because she seems to do her job efficiently … setting trays, turning over rooms, greeting patients, and even trying the Pride Institute communication skills. 

That’s fine. She likes being liked. She doesn’t like to make waves, but she has noticed that more and more dishes are showing up in the sink. She used to just do a mug here and a dish there. She liked to be seen as useful, so she’d just do them. As she became more familiar with the full duties associated with her job, she kept doing dishes while also trying to keep up. Now she’s kept so busy as an assistant that dishes are piling up in the sink. It was never her job in the first place. No one said she had to do the dishes. She did them to be nice, but now she’s noticing that no one else is doing them. The dishes pile up waiting to be done. 

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She really doesn’t want to create a scene. She can’t stand conflict and she doesn’t want to get in trouble … or get anyone else in trouble. Sometimes she’ll come in a little early to do them. Sometimes she’ll clock out but still do them before she leaves. 

However, resentment is now building inside of her. She’s worried about not doing the dishes, but she really needs to go home to her kids and not stay after work.

Growth conferences are coming. She hopes that she won’t be punished by the doctor, so she works extra hard to keep things neat.

But … she says something about being taken for granted and being the maid for the office. The doctor hears this. 

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Doctor begins with active listening: “It sounds like you’re frustrated with the dish situation.” Sometimes team members (actually all humans) just need to feel heard and have their feelings validated.

Then the doctor would teach the assistant the “I” statement formula

· When (neutral description of behavior) happens

· I feel _______________________

· What I would like in the future is if ________________________

The team member would practice: “When dishes are left in the sink, I feel like taken advantage of and like you expect me to be the maid. What I’d like is if you have a dish, if you could do it or at least communicate that you’ve had to leave it and ASK if I wouldn’t mind helping. Thanks!”

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Have a Sticky Situation you need help with? Contact us at Pride Institute offers an array of consulting services, products, and seminars to enhance the lives of dentists, their teams and ultimately their patients. For more information about our services, speak with one of our client services specialists at (800) 925-2600 or visit