STRESS BUSTERS!

The stress that comes from team dysfunction, lack of cooperation, miscommunication - or no communication - is immeasurable. Doctors state they want to take their practices to the next level, but realize they must have their teams functioning well before it can happen. Success comes only when both the systems of your practice and the team are functioning well.

Follow these steps to fight stress and build a healthy team!

Cathy Jameson, Ph. D.

The stress that comes from team dysfunction, lack of cooperation, miscommunication - or no communication - is immeasurable. Doctors state they want to take their practices to the next level, but realize they must have their teams functioning well before it can happen. Success comes only when both the systems of your practice and the team are functioning well.

Relationships, teamwork, and communication

Organizational psychologists French, Kast, and Rosenzweig state that the essential organizational functions are communication and coordination. "Because different parts of the organization perform separate tasks, some means must be found for putting the parts together for integrating the diverse activities. This integration is termed coordination; it occurs through communication."

Communication and coordination are imperative for successful teamwork within the dental environment. Inadequate communication can lead to disharmony, feeling unappreciated, confusion of responsibility, and general disorder in the workplace, all of which have a negative impact on productivity. Improving teamwork benefits everyone; more importantly, it helps control stress.

Honest communication is a prerequisite for team development. In many group structures, people are uncomfortable and insecure about expressing themselves frankly. They fear retribution, or worse, dismissal. Most people are not trained in the art of confrontation; they lack the skills necessary to facilitate healthy communication.

Successful people and successful businesses, including dental practices, are not exempt from these problems. In fact, many businesses can attribute much of their success to facing and solving communication problems. Successful problem resolution results in strengthened relationships and strengthened organizations.

Problem-solving and teamwork

Conflict among team members is rated as the greatest source of stress in the workplace. Personnel and teamwork are the areas most negatively affected by stress. Many people choose to ignore conflict rather than face it.

Avoidance is a typical response by those who lack effective communication skills. Silence, however, is the least effective way to handle any kind of problem.

Effective conflict resolution requires:

- The ability to identify and solve problems

- Going to the source to discuss a problem

- Developing a safe environment for problem-solving

Step one:

Identify the problem. Identifying the problem may take longer than any other step of the process. That`s OK. Only when you identify the problem will your solutions bring workable results.

Identifying the problem requires both listening and speaking skills. It is critical to express yourself clearly without "putting the other person down." You must also try to listen to the other person empathetically. Try to hear an alternative point of view without becoming defensive. You may not agree, but respecting everyone`s right to have an opinion is significantly important.

Let`s say that you are having a problem with another team member`s performance. Ask yourself: "Are this person`s actions having a concrete, negative effect on me, on my performance, or on the practice?" If the answer is "yes," then you have both the right and the responsibility to address the problem.

Let the other person know how you feel. Express your concerns or your problems from your point of view. Define what is causing the problem for you. Also describe the concrete, negative effect that results from the other person`s behavior.

For example: "Mary, I get upset when the instruments are not sterilized before our afternoon patients begin arriving. This makes us start late and run late all afternoon. Sometimes I don`t have the necessary instruments when I need them and we have to stop the procedure to retrieve them. This is poor use of our time and of the patient`s time."

The doctor has a real, legitimate problem and addresses it concisely - but without putting the other person down. He described the problem to his assistant, how he felt about it, and what was happening as a result of the "glitch" in their sterilization system.

If he had sent her a "put down" message rather than the constructive "I" message represented above, the assistant would probably become defensive, angry, or hurt; furthermore, she would be less likely to help with a solution.

Here is an example of a "put down" or a "you" message: "Mary, you don`t manage your time or your responsibilities well at all. You don`t get those instruments sterilized in a timely fashion and it`s causing all kinds of problems for me. You don`t seem to get it - I want you to get those instruments sterilized before the afternoon patients get here. Do you understand?"

Be careful to identify the problem in terms of need. What do you need? What does the other person need? A solution must satisfy the needs of both parties to be truly successful. Becoming part of the decsion making process increases the chance of compliance with the decision. If both parties "buy into" the decision, they will be more inclined to carry out the necessary steps for resolution.

Step two:

Brainstorm possible solutions. When brainstorming, don`t discuss the options. Just let the ideas flow.

Step three:

Discuss each possible solution. What are the pros and the cons? If there are very many "cons," then it`s best to disregard that idea. Too many barriers will get in the way of effective problem-solving.

Step four:

Arrive at a consensus. Each team member must agree on the solution or solutions.

Step five:

Develop a plan of action. What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? Who will do what? How long will each step of the plan take to complete? What resources do you need? What barriers must you address and remove? Once the plan of action is completed, make a commitment to each other to execute it.

Step six:

Implement the plan. Like Nike says, "Just do it!"

Step seven:

Evaluate. This is a crucial step. Schedule an appointment with each other to review how things are going. Is your plan of action working? If it isn`t, go back to brainstorming and begin again. If something isn`t working, be willing to creatively develop an alternative action plan. You can solve almost any problem that comes between you and another team member if you have the desire to do so.

The ability to address problems and to resolve conflicts will make the difference in any relationship where people spend a great deal of time together, have decisions to make, and where daily challenges occur. Understanding the skills of confrontation - speaking clearly and listening accurately - is imperative for positive conflict resolution.

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