More tools for difficult conversations

Last month, we opened with, "Don't you just hate it when everyone gets emotional?!" I dare say if you're like me — a male (emotional avoider) doctor who grew up in a family that didn't deal well with emotions...

Bob Frazer Jr., DDS

Last month, we opened with, "Don't you just hate it when everyone gets emotional?!" I dare say if you're like me — a male (emotional avoider) doctor who grew up in a family that didn't deal well with emotions — you agree with that statement. Experts point out that emotions are part of all human relationships. More importantly, when emotions are not allowed to be expressed, they are acted out. In other words, what doesn't get talked out gets acted out! Often, this results in very negative consequences. So, let's continue to explore emotionally intelligent mindsets and tools for those difficult conversations we all have from time to time.

What is your mindset when there is conflict? In my early years, I'd often think: "This is not something I want to deal with now. We've got much more important things to do. She is always stirring something up." Note how these thoughts are outer-directed; it's not about me, it's them! Often, I'd played a key role in this impasse. Long ago a consultant friend, Wilson Southam, said something that's stuck with me. He stated that when he was confronted by a work mate, he would tell himself: "This person is conspiring to do me good." That's hard to say in every confrontation, but it has a positive opening effect on how you receives feedback.

Daniel Goleman, PhD, points out that effective leaders are emotionally self-aware. They know what they are feeling, label their emotions, and are appropriately transparent, letting others know what they're feeling at the time. He also states, "Leaders who manage conflict best are able to draw out all parties, understand differing perspectives, and then find a common ideal that everyone can endorse. They surface the conflict, acknowledge the feelings and views of all; then, redirect the energy toward a shared ideal." This is much easier when the doctor plus key team members have agreed upon core values and collectively created a mission for the practice.

When you must give feedback, use the five B's:

1) Be Specific — Do not "laundry-list." Pick one or two concrete actions to discuss.

2) Be Descriptive — Describe what you observed that the other person did or said.

3) Be Timely — Negotiate a mutually good time soon after the event, while the memory is still fresh, but intense emotions have subsided. Never do this at the end of a long day, or what I call "the arsenic hour"!

4) Be Wanted — Maintain cooperative, affirming relationships so that when you have to confront someone, you have positive regard for one another.

5) Be Helpful — Offer a workable solution as part of your feedback.

The Awareness Wheel, from the book Alive and Aware by Alice Miller, tells us when giving feedback or confronting to first report sensory data — what you heard them say or saw them do — to the other person. Second, give your interpretation of what you heard or saw. Use phrases like, "I imagine you mean ..." Next, report emotions or how you feel. For example, "I feel ..." about what you heard or saw. Finally, express volition: "I need ..." or "I want ..." Ask for what you need or want. This almost sounds too simple to work, but it does!

An applied strategic planning (ASP) client of ours returned to her office after Retreat I and invited her team to help plan the future of the practice. Her invitation was met with reluctant agreement, but team members didn't want to travel to Texas or give up time on weekends. She was disappointed and discouraged. She then employed the awareness wheel during a team meeting saying, "When I invited you to participate in ASP for our practice, you all reacted coolly, looking away or rolling your eyes, asking if this would be during or after work. I imagined this to mean you really weren't interested, especially if some work would be after hours. I then felt discouraged and disappointed in both you and me for not helping you understand how positively this will impact the quality of our lives. What I need is for you to join me in this work to create the best practice we can!"

Our client was amazed that her team members then engaged, wanting to know more, and eventually fully embraced the ASP. They helped to create a practice with variable compensation, based on the success of the practice. In the two years since ASP, they have increased collections 40 percent and reduced clinical time 28 percent!

Dr. Bob Frazer Jr., FACD, FICD, is founder of R.L. Frazer & Assoc., whose custom programs help dentists achieve top 5 percent status in financial achievement and life balance (fulfillment and significance). Thirty years of quality practice and superb communication skills have propelled him to a 28-year international speaking career. For information on his acclaimed Strategic Planning Retreat 10/20-23 and E.I. Workshop 10/28-30 or to receive free "7 Ways to Grow Your E.Q.," contact him at (512) 346-0455, fax (512) 346-1071, or email him at Visit his Web site at

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