Lean, strong, and unperturbed

Jan. 1, 1999
Practices that plan ahead on how to resolve conflicts usually discover that problems barely work up a sweat.

Practices that plan ahead on how to resolve conflicts usually discover that problems barely work up a sweat.

Suzanne Piersak, RDH, BS

The dental profession faces unique external and internal conflicts. Rapid advances in dental technology, shrinking pools of employees, DMO and insurance mandates, and increased patient demands for exceptional service overload the practitioner`s financial and emotional state. The independent dental practitioner deals with obstacles that stretch capabilities to maintain last year`s status quo.

Strategic planning is a tool that must include conflict resolution. A plan for conflict resolution will focus on all levels of a practice - organizational, group, and individual - to systematically manage the problems and conflicts. Conflicts among individual employees and at the group level may stem from a weakness at the organizational level. A conflict resolution system facilitates effective responses to conflicts, resulting in more harmony within the practice.

A systematic approach to conflict will analyze the practice to resolve destructive forces that pit employees against one another and against the practice. A dental office that lacks a concrete philosophy is living with a paramount source of conflict. The philosophy of the practice establishes the aim, the strategic intent, the mission, and values that define itself. By doing so, a practice dons "loupes," and the magnified, clear lens helps make many decisions affecting fiscal and human resources.

Dentistry revolves around caring services provided through direct contact the patient. Financial and personnel decisions need to reflect components of personal care. A mission that defines values and goals is a big step toward conflict resolution. Missions help eliminate the unnecessary distractions. A mission statement is like developed muscle in a healthy, strong individual.

A personal analogy creates a strong visual for establishing the mission component in your practice`s conflict resolution system. Recently, I began to commit time to building up my musculature system. I worked hard the first two weeks but felt more unfit as my clothes seemed to fit tighter. My fat was sitting loose and ugly on top of my toning muscles.

The scale showed a 11/2 pound gain due to the muscle development. By week three, my clothes were loosening a bit. I had a surplus of two additional pounds. By week five, my weight dropped by two pounds. My clothes began to fit better, even though the scales showed my weight hadn`t changed. By week seven, I lost four more pounds.

I then had a second body analysis, which revealed a weight loss of six pounds. I had gained four pounds of lean muscle tissue, and this translated into a total 10-pound loss. Muscle works more effectively than fat. By using three calories per hour per pound compared to fat burning only one calorie per pound, a body stays leaner. The muscle of your dental practice is a strong mission statement, and the unnecessary nuisances are like excess fat. Muscle works more effectively than fat!

A mission statement directs your practice much like muscle works your body. Covert Bailey, an exercise guru, describes muscle as the hidden beauty that, when developed, ripples the fat away, allowing the tiger to sleep and the eagle to soar. Competitive practices will squelch the conflicts of roaring tigers and define their entities. The mission and goals are the wings of soaring practices.

Office policies are additional components at the organization level that influence a system for resolving conflict. Office policies communicate the "what`s in it for me" for both the practice and the employee. Written policies distributed to each employee and signed by each employee acknowledge the understanding between your practice and employees. Maintain a permanent copy on premise at all times and make it freely accessible to your employees. These actions communicate a resolve for mutual understandings between the practice, how it serves its employees, and how employees are to serve the practice.

Established forums are essential for working out problems and conflicts. Communication in the independent dental practice requires that all individuals be proficient in the face-to-face group process. The group that functions well together understands what each co-worker needs in order to do his or her job well.

Dental practices support team building by committing time and resources. A commitment, for example, to regular staff meetings provides the forum for your staff to communicate, identify performance gaps, and resolve those gaps. The by-products of effective meetings are decisions that empower staff members to resolve conflicts in their daily work environment. A practice owner validates this by investing in the meeting process.

Conflict resolution may include reward systems that value performance. Job descriptions, complete with task analysis, communicate performance expectations. They also eliminate conflicts among individuals.

Performance reviews based on a strong level of trust for the individual also offer fair rewards. Chart audits help improve individual performance and overall practice performance. The audits identify individuals who break down the process at the individual level. Addressing inadequacies provides the practice with competency in all areas and eliminates sources of conflict.

A conflict resolution system is cost beneficial. The essential ingredients are mission statements and an effective group process. The investment and energy spent on resources, training and retraining, or bringing in a mediator affirms the value of relationships. Proactive practices acknowledge the overhead in recruiting and training new employees.

Conflict resolution policy

1. Our practice has defined, clear expectations for what we are through our mission and goals. Our employees must understand who their customers are both internally (co-workers) and externally (patients). Our practice commits itself to exposing unproductive waste in all resources, both financial and human, and resolving the conflicts inherent in waste.

2. Our team communicates directly with those individuals involved in incidents producing conflict. Through an investment in team-building, our team has the skills to confront action and problems. A team goal is conflict resolution and problem-solving among co-workers, practice owners, and patients.

3. Principled negotiation is the method we use to resolve conflicts identified between one or more individuals, or between the practice and individuals. Conflicting individuals will commit to creating satisfactory solutions to defined problems. The solution must be accepted by all parties to the conflict.

4. Mediation is available if internal attempts to negotiate reach an impasse. A neutral third party will be brought in. Our practice commits to fair, impartial conflict resolution. The organization and team members are accountable for decisions made through the mediation process.

5. Unresolved conflict is harmful to all individuals. The practice`s philosophy is to treat all parties in a conflict similarly, including conflicts involving patients.