The positive power of conflict and how a horse can improve your bottom line

Nov. 15, 2016
What do conflict management, dental practices, and horses have to do with each other? According to this dentist, quite a lot, especially if you want to improve your bottom line.

Running a successful dental practice is about more than being a great dentist, but what does a successful dental practice actually look like to you? Is it a practice that is thriving financially? One with satisfied patients who actually look forward to maintaining their oral health in partnership with you and your team? Where your team (including you) is cohesive, productive, and happy to come to work every day? These are not mutually exclusive concepts—in fact, a truly successful practice relies on these interdependent components being equally healthy.

While you can improve the success of your practice by streamlining financial practices or developing better patient-care programs, focusing on internal team dynamics pays dividends across all three of these important areas. Research on organizational leaders indicates the majority of workplace problems comes down to people issues, with a strong correlation between quality of relationships at work and overall productivity and performance.1

In a 2008 study, consulting firm CPP Global estimated that US employees spent almost three hours per week dealing with conflict, at a huge cost to businesses.2 Additionally, at least a quarter of employees polled revealed that workplace conflict had led to sickness or absence—possibly even staff turnover. Add to the mix a practice owner who may already be stressed or overwhelmed, and whose skill set is dentistry—not conflict resolution—and the risk of conflict-fueled drama increases.

It's a vicious cycle, but let's reframe the issue. Kim Villeneuve, PhD, CEO of Centerstone Executive Search and Consulting, notes, "It is a common misconception that conflict is a bad thing . . . appropriately harnessed and embraced, conflict can generate creative energy, boost business results, and strengthen teams."3 In fact, many innovative companies foster conflict as an energizing force, and research suggests collaboration that embraces healthy conflict can improve financial performance, team cohesion, and employee loyalty.4

The key is how leaders handle conflict. The best leaders are able to model healthy behaviors that promote what Nate Regier, PhD, author of Conflict Without Casualties, describes as "compassionate accountability," allowing them to "develop alternative ways of influencing excellence that preserve everyone's dignity and stay focused on the most important priorities."1

READ MORE |Stress in the dental profession and why a horse could save your life

Leading your practice away from drama and toward more compassion-based conflict management will generate positive returns on all fronts. According to the CPP Global study, the number one cause of workplace conflict is related to personality clashes, with stress and workload also contributing significantly. Thankfully, an increased understanding of personality and the development of skills to both constructively channel conflict and manage stress can have a positive impact on the overall health—and success—of a dental practice.

A well-qualified coach is an invaluable asset to any practice owner looking to develop his or her leadership in this area. Using typology to understand how to better support different personalities can result in meaningful change. Even more effective is a nontraditional combination of coaches: equine and human. As a former practice owner and dentist and now a certified practitioner of the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method (EGCM), I believe that partnering with horses can be a powerful way to shift the conflict paradigm in your practice, whether you choose individual leadership coaching or decide to include the whole team in a workshop.

Engaging in an immersive experience with a 1,200-pound being is nothing short of transformational: simply being in the vicinity of a horse can shift emotional states and lower stress levels,5 reducing one of the key contributors to destructive conflict. On a more interactive level, team activities with equine coaches can surface unspoken tensions and potentially toxic behaviors in a team. As herd animals, horses are masters at effective team dynamics and, as prey animals, are skilled in observing and responding to energy and authentic intention. By providing immediate, tangible feedback in an experiential context, they help support the development of a virtuous cycle of collaboration, openness, and trust. This, in turn, can lead to greater employee engagement and innovation, improved customer experiences, and the inevitable positive reflection on the bottom line-in short, a more successful practice overall.

READ MORE | Dental staff not getting along? Here’s how to fix it

Bethany Piziks-Gareiss, DDS, is deeply committed to inspiring dentists who long to achieve balance, peace, and prosperity within the chaos of a dental practice. Visit braveheartequinecoaching.com to learn how Dr. Piziks-Gareiss and her equine partners can help you restore your spirit, or call (231) 633-7373.

1. Regier N. Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability. Newton, Kansas: Next Element Publishing; 2006.
2. Workplace conflict and how businesses can harness it to thrive. CPP website. http://img.en25.com/Web/CPP/Conflict_report.pdf. Published July 2008. Accessed October 3, 2016.
3. Is your leadership creating a culture of drama? Centerstone Blog. http://www.centerstoneblog.com/home/2016/8/2/is-your-leadership-creating-a-culture-of-drama. Published August 2, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
4. Weiss L. True collaboration embraces conflict. Management Innovation Exchange website. http://www.managementexchange.com/blog/true-collaboration-embraces-conflict. Published January 26, 2011. Accessed October 3, 2016.
5. Piziks B. Stress in the dental profession and why a horse could save your life. DentistryIQ website. http://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/apex360/print/volume-3/issue-6/special-features/stress-in-the-dental-profession-and-why-a-horse-could-save-your-life.html. Published July 5, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

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