Keeping conflict at bay

Sept. 1, 2004
We are attracted to people who make us feel good. Excellent communication skills with patients stem from team members and the leader feeling good about themselves and their contributions to the practice.

Bill Blatchford, DDS

We are attracted to people who make us feel good. Excellent communication skills with patients stem from team members and the leader feeling good about themselves and their contributions to the practice. To be successful, you need to be technically competent as well as a focused master communicator. You and your staff are competing with day spas, plastic surgeons, personal fitness trainers, retail stores, and vacations. Why would a potential guest select you over other "feel good" choices?

Effective communication can be learned. You must see the value of your team focusing on interpersonal-communication skills. Think of the harmony, synergism, and achievement possibilities.

The leader clearly establishes a vision for the practice by sharing standards of integrity, excellence, and respect. A path to achieve greatness is demonstrated. From vision, a group of individuals form a team for a common purpose. Each brings individual skills and a differing outlook on life to the table. Yet, together, they form a team that focuses on meaningful work. The team members hold the vision as their own. They have moments of perfection and harmony and their individual senses of purpose are aligned. This keeps the team together and moving towards the bigger vision. If the vision becomes blurred, each team member does his or her job in the best way possible and works together as if it were a "bad hair day."

Human nature creates opportunities to accentuate our differences. We pride ourselves on our diversity. Yet, there are infinite possibilities for discord. A lack of clarity about a change, different personality styles and paces in life or, perhaps, a feeling that someone is not pulling his or her weight. Eventually, something is said or not said, some gesture is interpreted, some task undone or overdone. In the friction that follows, we lose sight of the bigger vision and wallow in the conflict of today. Is this situation present in your practice?

A small dental team is acutely aware of the style and feelings of others. Team members become quickly aware of a growing conflict, and choose their own response path. Those involved also select paths of behavior. Some ignore and fester and some gather others around in support by repeating their own version of "the incident." This creates a divided team. Others may make a power play by responding, "No, there is nothing wrong with me today and I am not going to talk about it." Some will quit, literally or figuratively. The conflict, real or imaginary, is sitting like a big decaying elephant in the office. The team loses its vision and sense of purpose. Then, patients walk into this confusion. All this comes at a great emotional and financial cost.

Someone needs to call the game to return the team to vision and harmony. Communication skills are needed. The team members involved need to confront their differences, and make a resolution to move forward. Without confrontation, negotiation, and resolution, it is like "Groundhog Day" from that day forward.

With communication skills, the people involved can resolve their own conflict. If desire and skill is not present, outside help may be needed. One hour in a counselor's office may help the two parties gain the skills and commitment to move forward. The "confrontation" involves giving "I" messages about how each party feels and senses things. It allows each to think about the other person in the situation. To achieve a win/win situation, each party must have a strong desire to recreate the relationship and go forward toward the bigger vision.

This cannot be about being right and making someone else wrong. Once the "I" messages are sincerely and deeply communicated, the parties involved can move on to what each wants in the future. These skills build self-esteem. This is where we create a plan of conduct or action which can resolve the conflict and obtain promises on how they will conduct themselves in the future. Once resolved, this plan of action is shared with the team.

The larger benefit is the team returns to the greater vision and moves forward. Important feelings are shared, self-esteem is built, relationships are made stronger, recommitments are made, and respect is gained for sharing and resolving.

You must decide if "Groundhog Day" is the theme in your office, or if relationships, team-building, and excellent results form the theme. You can fester in the mud and lose the committed players, or step up to the plate and focus on communication and harmony. Be bold!

Dr. Bill Blatchford's Custom Coaching Program is now available anytime, anywhere. Utilizing 18 years of practice-management experience with over 1,100 offices, Dr. Blatchford's custom program involves minimal travel and maximum personal time with the coach, interaction with other doctors and tons of support. Leadership, systems, case presentation skills, communication, and profitability are emphasized. He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at

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