No matter how good your clinical skills are, the success of your practice is heavily determined by your leadership and interactions with your team and patients. Human nature dictates that some of these interactions will involve conflict. Whether there are two people in the room or many, when there are disagreement—spoken or unspoken—a potential confrontation becomes the proverbial elephant in the room. Confrontation has such a negative connotation that most people avoid it, opting instead to allow undesirable behaviors to continue and negative consequences to be repeated.
Yet there are more positive definitions of the word confrontation than negative. For example, "confrontation" can be defined as a face-to-face meeting and comparison of ideas. My personal favorite definition comes from the field of psychology: “A technique used in group therapy, as in encounter groups, in which one is forced to recognize one’s shortcomings and their possible consequences.”
Also by Jay Geier:
Reframe how you think about confrontation. Instead of a stressful conflict, think of it as a technique for constructively pointing out someone’s behavior and the related consequences. In many cases, the negative consequences are unrecognized and unintended, so bringing a situation to someone’s attention can lead to behavior change more easily than you might think.
Look in the mirror first
As the leader of your family and business, you have to act with integrity. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a double standard that will limit your ability to effectively confront issues and lead behavior change in others. First, learn to confront yourself; be honest about your own behaviors and shortcomings, which may just be a lack of knowledge and skill in an area. Don’t make excuses or blame circumstances. Find a great coach who will guide your self-discovery and hold you accountable for the necessary changes in your own thinking and behaviors.
Then you can learn to confront your employees. Most of the time, people don’t know they’re doing something incorrectly or that there’s a better way. That’s not a shortcoming; it’s a lack of awareness, training, or understanding of consequences. You’re not being negative by bringing something to their attention; you’re training them on a better way. The type of employees you want will accept and want feedback and constructive criticism so they have the opportunity to perform better.
The alternative is to let undesirable behaviors continue and become much harder to change, and allow negative consequences to worsen through repetition. This often leads to confrontation in its worst form because you’ll wait until you’re exasperated or something harms the business so severely that the undesirable behavior can no longer be ignored. Prevent this scenario by learning to confront issues early on.
Trust but verify
Just because you confront an issue doesn’t mean it’s fixed. Put processes in place so you can verify whether the desired behavior changes are sticking, negative consequences are being eliminated, and results are improving.
- Have clear, measurable goals.
- Build accountability systems to drive sustained behavior change. Don’t assume the changes will continue long-term without periodic reinforcement, especially with team training.
- Establish measurement systems that track progress toward goals.
Establishing these systems lets you be proactive about resolving issues that will otherwise need to be confronted later.
Rest and recovery
We know from working with so many clients that most dentists take very few truly restful and rejuvenating days off. When not in the office, they’re likely to be stressing at home about the business, doing chores, or taking exhausting family vacations.
You may think you can’t afford to take time off but being tired, worn out, and stressed saps the mental and emotional energy you need to work through problems, make good decisions, and take effective actions. You won’t be able to recognize shortcomings that are causing problems, much less confront and solve those problems.
We coach clients to break this vicious cycle by establishing a rest and recovery process that leads to real rejuvenation. Specifically, we encourage scheduled time off, vacations that are truly restful, and healthier lifestyle habits.
The gift of confrontation
A patient will rarely tell you that someone on your team is lousy or that their experience was disappointing. Like most people, they will avoid confrontation and just stop coming, stop referring others, and maybe criticize your practice on social media. By not confronting you, they deprive you of a gift: the truth you need to hear and face up to. Your practice suffers the negative consequences of behaviors you’re blind to and unable to correct.
Change the way you think about confrontation. Recognize it as a powerful technique for driving positive outcomes by honestly confronting the truth so you can understand and accept reality, then change behaviors in yourself and others that are causing negative consequences.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the November 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.