The impact of the Coronavirus is leading to heightened emotions and increased tension. I’ve been fielding a lot of phone calls from dentists who’ve had patients test positive for COVID-19—after they’d been seen in office. Some dentists have had staff who have been exposed or are testing positive for the virus. Dental practices are immersed in chaos and navigating through conflict has been difficult. Some dental offices function like one big dysfunctional family. So in this episode of Talking with the Toothcop, Andrea and I will cover some conflict resolution strategies to keep your practice running as smoothly as possible.
The first conflict resolution method I sort of stumbled upon when a dentist called me to walk through a situation. I was able to be a sounding board that wasn’t passing judgment and could help them reason through the situation—even though they did the majority of the problem-solving themselves.
Working through a difficult situation can be easier if you have someone in your corner who can help you muddle through the possible solutions. Andrea points out that having someone to talk to can give you peace of mind, even if they aren't part of the solution.
Of all of the conflict resolution strategies you could utilize, communication should be at the top of the list. I work with a dentist who was wrapped up in a situation where a staff member came to work sick—with a cough—and was later diagnosed with COVID-19. The staff hasn’t been diligent with wearing their face mask, so the doctor was stuck trying to figure out who had been exposed. She ended up furloughing part of her staff for two weeks while they quarantined at home.
One of the exposed staff members that were sent home was extremely upset and hurled some colorful hurtful words towards the dentist. The dentist knew they were upset and responding emotionally—but it was still hurtful. This staff member completely ghosted her and refused to return phone calls. The dentist finally had to call her and let her know that if she didn’t return her call she wouldn’t be receiving a paycheck. The staff member returned her call, completely embarrassed by her actions and profusely apologetic.
The situation started with a completely emotional blow-up, but the dentist and her staff members got their butts back to the bargaining table, cleared the air, apologized, and found a way to move forward. You MUST be willing to sit and do the work and figure out a workable solution. If you’re not willing to do that, it’s an easy decision—leave.
Are you being driven by fear? Are you anxious about keeping your job so you can provide for your family? Have you been personally impacted by the coronavirus? Everyone has a different frame of reference that dictates how they handle crises. To resolve conflict—or prevent it from reaching the point of conflict resolution—you need to step back from your knee-jerk emotions and exhibit some grace and empathy. It doesn’t mean anyone is right or wrong—but just have differing opinions.
Andrea points out that you can combat emotional outbursts with even more vile opinions and feelings, or you can empathize and put yourself in those persons’ shoes. You only have power over how you respond to the situation—so respond with grace. Give them the opportunity to apologize or leave. Be raw, real, transparent, and bridge the gap—in an appropriate way. Communicate on a different level to overcome conflict and misunderstandings.
Conflict resolution begins with a willingness to listen to your staff and understand their viewpoint and try and find some common ground. Consider their point of view before you dismiss their contribution—because they likely are trying to help you. Likewise, dental staff must work to gain understanding if you don’t understand what you’re being asked to do. Don’t allow your confusion or frustration to fester. Be willing and open to be educated and change your viewpoint if necessary.
COVID-19 has made a significant negative impact on the dental industry. We can hope and pray this doesn’t happen again. But in the meantime, we can work together to minimize the personal and professional impact it has on our lives. Be cognizant of the choices you make in your private life. If you take unnecessary risks and expose yourself to the virus it doesn’t just impact you. It impacts the practice you work in and it WILL have a cascade effect—so keep that in mind. Protect yourself, minimize exposure, and don’t expose your coworkers.
But what do you do if your office—patients and staff—are exposed to the Coronavirus? Do you need to close your office or furlough staff? We don’t have all of the answers, but we’ve linked to some of the best resources below to help you decipher what your next step should be. Always feel free to reach out with any questions. At the very least, I can be your sounding board.