Do You Know How To Deal With Office Drama In Your Dental Practice?
From The Dr. John Meis Show
In Episode 3 on the Dr Meis Show we’ll discuss every dental practice’s favorite topic, “office drama.” What to do when the dreaded question that comes up, ” can I talk to you?” There are three main stages on how dental office drama can strain your energy, so let’s discuss three solutions to solve it. Listen in now to Dr. John Meis about this…
(For those who prefer to read over watching the video)
Dr. John Meis: Welcome everybody to this episode of the Dr. John Meis show. Today, we are gonna talk about every doctor’s favorite topic, office drama.
Dr. John Meis: It’s summertime here in Phoenix, and it’s gonna be 113 degrees today, which I can tell you, I don’t care if it’s dry, that is hot. And I love living in Phoenix. It’s a great place to live. And in the summer time, you do things just a little differently, ’cause it’s so hot.
Dr. John Meis: So last night after having a nice dinner, my wife and I got in the pool, and we floated around, and it was relaxing. And it was about 101 degrees at nine o’clock at night. You just do stuff differently in the summer. But Phoenix is an amazing place to live.
Dr. John Meis: So I’m gonna talk today about office drama, and I want to tell you all some of my experiences. And I hope that you get a good chuckle out of them, because I think you probably have had some experiences yourself.
Dr. John Meis: So one of the ways that office drama comes to your attention is that moment, that dreaded moment, when one of your team members come up and says, “Can I talk to you?” Of course, they come to you when you don’t have time to talk. So now you say, “Yeah, let’s do it at the end of the day.” Now all day, you’re thinking about what is it that they’re going to talk about. Right? Are they going to quit? Are they mad at me? Are they mad at somebody else? What’s going on? Are they going to ask for a raise? All of those drama things that happen.
Dr. John Meis: Typically when I have the office drama, whether it be coming from that or whether it be coming that I come into a conversation where two people are jawing at each other, that are upset about something. All those things. Or you can tell this one is mad at this one because there’s all this really passive-aggressive behavior going on. All of those things that you notice and it gets to you, it really does. So when I would see that kind of stuff, I’d go into my office and I’d close the door. I don’t want to be disturbed. I’m just going to work through this. I had this little squeezy stress ball and I’d be sitting there squeezing it like crazy trying to calm down a little bit.
Dr. John Meis: If I didn’t get to deal with the drama that day, then I’m thinking about it, thinking about it. I’m driving home, I’m thinking about it, thinking what are we going to do about this. I walk in the door and my wife says, “What’s wrong? I can tell there’s something wrong. I can tell by the look on your face.” It was like dang. This shouldn’t be affecting me this much. Why am I carrying the weight of all this drama? So I’d be half gone the rest of the evening and I’d have a hard time getting to sleep. All this, it just weighs on me. At the same time, you know that it probably shouldn’t, but it does. It did me anyway.
Dr. John Meis: It does me. So here are some of the mistakes that I made with the drama thing. So that can I talk to you question, I would say, “Yeah, sure.” I would sit down and often it was one team member having a problem with another team member. Right. I would listen carefully. I would get to understand the whole thing. Now I had a perfect understanding of one side of the story. Then I would go and try to fix it. Ugh. Mistake. Mistake. Second thing that I would do would be I would now there’s some problem going on between team members and I would know, because I’ve heard one side of the story, I think I understand the entire thing.
Dr. John Meis: Then I would say something in a team meeting or a morning huddle or a weekly meeting, and I would say something very indirect and non-specific and think that I would have communicated the message. I would think now that I’ve said something oblique that the problem is already solved and I’ve already done everything that I need to do. Right? So I check the box, even though the people siting in the room don’t even understand what I’m talking about because I talk about it so obliquely. Then I thought, “Well, you know, rather than having people come to me with these things, let’s just create a list of things to work through at the next staff meeting.” So back in the staff lounge, we put up a little piece of paper and if you’ve got a topic you want to discuss, go ahead and put it on there.
Dr. John Meis: So here’s what happened: absolute disaster. Right? You could all see it coming I’m sure. So, Sally gets upset about Susie and they have a little tiff. Then Susie goes back to that thing and she writes on that, just all ticked off. So everybody is now reading that to see what’s coming at the staff meeting. And everybody is dreading the staff meeting because you know it’s just going to be fireworks and people mad at each other and yelling at each other and nothing productive is going to be happening. Now there’s going to be these people pointing their fingers at these people and back and forth. Now, the meeting is shot. I’ve accomplished nothing except to inflame everybody. So the next one I have is playing favorites.
Dr. John Meis: I have a little joke I tell when I lecture. I lecture all across the United States and Canada. One of the jokes I tel lis that every parent has a favorite child. Now it’s not polite to talk about, but every parent has a favorite child at any given time. The favorite child changes to every [inaudible 00:05:32]. But at any given time, there is one you like just a little bit better than the rest of them. So, I have the same thing within an office. There are some of your team members that you like better than others. But if you treat them differently than others, now you’ve created a dynamic where you’re going to have stress. Now, I’m trying to protect the ones I like and so the feedback going back is not the way it should be in a functional system.
Dr. John Meis: The last bit of drama is when someone has feedback for me, or when somebody has some feedback in the office, my automatic reaction, and it was a reaction, would be to become defensive. So [inaudible 00:06:20] drama filled, now I was part of the drama because I wasn’t responding to it well. I was reacting to it poorly. So these are all the things that happen in drama. The reason why drama is so destructive to practices is first of all, teamwork ends where blame begins. And blaming is usually part of drama. So we know our teamwork level goes down when we have drama in the office. Second thing, it’s stressful for everybody. Stress is an absolute killer, literally a killer when it comes to body physiology. So we know that it’s destructive in that way.
Dr. John Meis: The third way it’s destructive is that it reduces everyone’s mental energy. I think most people understand what I mean when I say mental energy. In dentistry, do we run out of physical energy first or do we run out of mental energy first? Well, we definitely run out of mental energy first. So the factors that I have studied that are super high performers, one of the things that they have in common is they eliminate all of the mental energy drainers. So they have to eliminate the drama because if they’re burning mental energy on drama, they can’t use that mental energy to care for patients. So taking care of drama situations is super important. I’ve got three solutions or three strategies I want to talk to you about how you can do it in your practice.
Dr. John Meis: The first one is when someone comes to me with a problem that they’re having with somebody else. I used to listen carefully, tell them, “Oh, it’s going to be all right. I’ll go ahead and fix it for you.” That’s a mistake because now, everybody’s coming to you with their problems for you to solve their problems rather than for them to solve their problems. What I learned to do was to help that person understand how to talk to the other person about whatever issue it is. I actively coach them through the situation. How I coach them is I help them be able to succinctly say what their issue is, be clear about what they want. And then I have them walk through the very first words they might have to start the conversation. So they get the conversation off on the right foot so they don’t get defensiveness and anger coming back. So that they can have a conversation, not an argument.
Dr. John Meis: Then I sometimes will role play with them so that I will ask them what they’re frightened about what the other person is going to say and then I’ll role play the other person. And we walk through it so that they have a little bit of experience. I can tell you this takes some time and I know what you’re all thinking is it takes a bunch of time. Yeah, but sometimes you have to spend time to save time. This is one of those examples because when you start doing this, only the most challenging problems are going to come to you. Because this is a lot of work for the other person. They’re not going to come to you with trivial stuff. They’re going to come to you only with the most important and the most meaty things. Those, it’s a good use of your time to be doing those. But if you do it like I did, everybody will be coming to you with all kinds of problems and your head will be spinning and you’ll have this feeling that everything’s a disaster all the time.
Dr. John Meis: You think the practice is really struggling because you’ve got all this drama and all this stuff coming. This is how you get rid of that. Here’s how this role play works. First of all, I help the employee understand, help them to succinctly say what their issue is. Second, to be clear about what they’re asking for, because often people are kind of upset and it can be a whole mix of things. And often, they’re just upset about the problem. They really haven’t talked about or thought about what it is that they want the other person to do differently. So I help them understand what those things are. Next thing, I have a statement that I always say is, “Now, are you going to ask this person to do it?” And they’ll say, “Yes.” And then I’ll say, “Is it okay if they say no?” And they’ll say, “No.” Then I say, “You’re not really asking then. You’re demanding and those are two different things. So understand whether you’re asking or demanding. And there’s a place for both, but be sure you understand that.”
Dr. John Meis: Then, we role play. First of all, I will role play the employee. They will role play the person that they’re going to talk to. Right? So they’re going to come back with all the objections they expect to hear from that person. Then I can model for them how to respond to those objections and the stuff that comes back to the other person. Let’s use an example. Let’s say Sally is upset with Susie because Susie leaves without cleaning and sterilizing her instruments. She just leaves a dirty tray in the sink. So, they’re upset about that. So Sally comes to me, “I’m upset with Susie.” So I say, “Okay Sally. What are you really upset about?” [inaudible 00:11:41] pretty good clarity there. She’s upset that she leaves without sterilizing her instruments. Then, “What are you asking for? You’re asking for her, before she ends her day, to clean her trays and sterilize her instruments like everybody else does.” Then I will say, “Are you asking or are you demanding?” In this case, it’s a frustration, but it’s not an absolute deal killer and is there a reason why she’s doing that? She’s kind of open to having a dialogue about it.
Dr. John Meis: So sometimes, there are things that are, for instance, below the standard of care. But that’s not really a discussion, that’s a demand. Right? So then, I would have her role play the one that leaves the tray out. I thought I mixed up the names already. So, have her role play that one and I would role play her. So that way, she gets to see me deal with whatever the objections are that she’s expecting to get from Sally. Okay? Then I flip it around and I have her do it and I feed back some of those same objections and have her work through the words. Now, when I was leading an organization that had 1600 employees, the things that would bubble up to my desk were usually super complicated things. They were usually very difficult to solve because there had been layers of management that had tried to solve it before it came to my desk.
Dr. John Meis: So, I always found it amazing that the solution often came down to this discussion needs to happen between these two people and this is how you begin the conversation. Those very first words are the thing that people often don’t feel to come up with. So if you can help them get the very first words out so that they can begin a dialogue without anger and without defensiveness, if you can begin that dialogue properly, that’s when magic can really happen. Once we’ve done this role playing, now it’s up to her to solve her problem. Typically, this whole thing that I just talked about will take seven to ten minutes to solve. So this is not you’re going to come and spit all this stuff that you’re upset about for the next half hour. No, I kind of lead the conversation so that I get very specific and I do it quickly. Otherwise, you can burn a lot of time.
Dr. John Meis: Now, being able to do this is somewhat of a skill and it may be a skill that you don’t have. So, one resource that will help you to have these type of communications is a book called Crucial Conversations, and a very, very similar book called Crucial Accountability. They’re written by the same people. They have very, very similar content. One’s a little newer than the other. Reading through that book and thinking through the strategies of how they’re teaching you to have conversations, it’s a great tool and I think that you will get a lot out of it if this is a skill that you don’t have.
Dr. John Meis: The next strategy that I will share with you is, if you have a specific problem with a specific person, or a small group of people, an all office meeting is not the venue to discuss it. So the venue to discuss is directly and privately with those people, or person. Now here are the rules I have for this. First of all, when you have this one on one conversation, first of all make sure you’re in the right mental framework to have a conversation about it. If you’re fatigued, if your mental energy level is low, if you’re angry, if you’re frustrated, if all those things are kind of right at the edge, you’re going to have a very difficult time coming across in a way that will foster relationship and foster conversation.
Dr. John Meis: Second thing is the right place, and I think the right place for these conversations are in the office, face to face in a private room. So most offices will have a consultation room or a private doctor’s office. That’s the place for conversations like this to happen. If you have them in a meeting, one of two things will happen: the first one that will happen is it will go right over their heads. They don’t even know you’re talking to them about it; or the second, if you’re specific enough to talk to them about it, now it’s changed the office dynamic hasn’t it? Because now everybody’s kind of looking at them and you’ve just given them a talking to in front of everybody. So it lowers their status among the team and now artificially raises the status of other people. That’s a dynamic that can get out of control extremely easily because sometimes, team members will find that lower status person and they will consciously or unconsciously, they’ll try to lower the status further in order to raise their own.
Dr. John Meis: The last strategy that I would have for you is, if you get feedback about yourself, or you get feedback about your practice in general, there is one response that works in every situation. That response is, thank you for letting me know. So what it tells you is you’ve heard them. It tells them that you’ve heard them. Does it mean that you agree with them? No. Does it mean you disagree with them? No. They just know that you’ve heard them, which is really what their intent is. Now, when I get this, I’ll go back and I’ll chew on it. Does that fit? Does that sound right? Is that helpful to me? Will that be helpful to the practice? And if it is, I’m going to do something about it. And, most of the time, people that will give you straight feedback, usually they’ve got a point right? So usually there’s something that you can improve.
Dr. John Meis: So, once I’ve had a chance to chew on it … now sometimes they’ll tell me things that, frankly, piss me off. I need to be in the right frame of mind, think through it. So if I have that immediate anger or bitchy reaction inside, I hold that back. I just say thank you for letting me know and then I process it when I have time and think through it. Is there some valuable information there? One of the most valuable people that you can have in your life is somebody who will look you in the eye and tell you the truth, will tell you when you’re doing great and also telling you when there’s a way that you can do better. So I always want to encourage people to give me feedback because that can help me get better.
Dr. John Meis: Do I act on every bit of feedback I get? Of course not. Do I act on most of it? I do. So those are our three strategies to deal with office drama. I want to end today with a quote, and this is from the great George Bernard Shaw. It is, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” So often we’re too vague. So make sure that you are direct, that you’re firm and that you do it kindly. I’ll see you next time on the Dr. John Meis Show.