While hopefully office conflicts are not common, it is important to still keep them in mind in case they do arise. This article written by Claudia G. Pohl, President of the American Dental Assistant Association addresses some important ideas about office conflicts. Take a look at this article and keep it in the back of your mind as you enter the dental world. To read this and more articles on the ADAA website click the title of the article below.
Claudia G. Pohl, CDA, RDA, FADAA, BVed
President, American Dental Assistants Association
We all work in an office – some big and some small - and it is a fact of life that when people work together, there will be conflict. So whether it’s the dental office, the faculty office at a school or a sales office that we dental assistants call home away from home, we need to be prepared for periodic conflicts and how to handle them. As a business assistant, it may even be in your job description to resolve them.
In all cases of conflict . . . and there are too many to enumerate here . . . conflicting thoughts and assumptions are usually at the core of the conflict. These thoughts and assumptions often get in the way of positive action and cooperation. Clear-cut lines of communication often help to quash conflict before it starts.
These are some of the more typical areas of conflict, particularly in a dental office:
A) Misunderstanding: “I thought you MEANT . . .”
B) Lack of Communication: I thought you KNEW”
C) Controversy: “I thought that was MY JOB / YOUR JOB.”
A) Misunderstanding If you’re the one in charge and you give a direction, particularly in a new situation or to a new employee, you might want to conclude by saying something like “Okay, just to be sure I’ve been clear, tell me what you’re going to do.” If the other person doesn’t give you what you want, instead of repeating what you’ve just said, perhaps say something like “Sorry, I guess I didn’t say it clearly, let me try again.” I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, just trying to give you the idea that if you think about it there are positive, thoughtful ways to find out what others are thinking and ways to communicate with them to avoid conflict or hurt feelings. Sometimes we think we’re communicating clearly – and we’re not.
Another way that’s effective is to restate what you think the other person is saying, like “what I’m hearing you say is . . .” Then they can correct what’s inaccurate and you can all be on the same page again.
B) Lack of Communication. The absence of clear expectations and job descriptions (which is pretty common in dentistry) can lead to a situation where “Everybody Knows” how to do it step-by-step except that certain someone who hasn’t done it your way and perhaps doesn’t know about a certain step that you think is important. Communicate task procedures in writing in advance and it’s one less thing to have conflict about. Let everyone see them. Put them in a book in a place where they can be reviewed. Write job descriptions and don’t leave anyone out. If there are 3 or 4 assistants in the practice, perhaps each one has slightly different duties. Make sure that each one is described adequately.
C) Controversy. Is there anything that causes more sulking and ill-will than someone (or more than one person) who thinks that they’re doing someone else’s work or that someone is infringing on their territory? It happens a lot in dental offices, doesn’t it? Everything from the front office cleaning a treatment room to back office staff pulling charts or making phone calls to a hygienist polishing one of the docs patients. An attitude of ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘why should I do their work?’ can cause lots of resentment in the work environment. Resentment from an attitude like this can breed faster than bunnies!
In a perfect world, we truly would be a dental “team” – helping out wherever needed, regardless of our job description! One of the best ways to foster a team attitude is to model it – be the one to start it in your office. Be willing to clean a treatment room if they’re running behind or bag some instruments. It’s amazing the affect that can have on the morale in the office.
As with so many potential areas of controversy, advance planning, thoughtfulness and empathy might solve the problem or divert it completely. Empathy plays a huge role in effectively dealing with conflict resolution. Some of us are naturally empathic and others need to try to develop empathy or at least take clues from the experts. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and respond with that in mind can go a long way to minimizing the fallout when conflict happens.
There’s an excellent article in the May/June issue of the Dental Assistant Journal about conflict resolution written by Ronda Savage (Dr. Savage is the CEO of Miles Global, formerly Linda Miles Associates). It’s information that you can use to help build your leadership skills as a manager or help all staff members to become better listeners and better communicators.
Take a little time to read this article in print in the Journal or online at our website www.dentalassistant.org (the Journal is now online - and for the rest of the year is available to everyone - not only our members and subscribers).
So when I think of conflicts, I try to think of solutions and prevention. I think of what I’d like out of the situation if I were a player in the conflict. Sometimes I think I can use the advice of the experts, and for certain I think . . . I know . . . it’s important that we don’t let these conflicts go unresolved because we all want our home away from home to be a place we enjoy!