The longer I manage dental practices, the more I realize that you have to deal with people and their feelings, before you can get anywhere. I manage a fairly large practice and I'm happy to say, our group has come a long way in regards to dealing with each other in a compassionate,caring way. Even so, my husband made this remark last night, "It seems like you spend a lot of your time dealing with kindergarten behavior. Doesn't that make it hard to get everything done you need to do?" He made this remark because I had just received two text messages, after hours, from an team member who'd I'd had to have a discussion with that day, along with another team member. These two appear to dislike each other intensely, compete with each other constantly, and involve the other team members in their department on a regular basis.
The problem was originally brought to me on Monday afternoon, as I was leaving, by the lead assistant, Karen. It sounded like everyone was up in arms over something that Tom had said. Now they all wanted a meeting to address it. On Tuesday morning when I arrived, the lead assistant and two others were waiting for me. Now, only two people were involved and upset by what Tom had said. I asked them what they had done wrong in their handling of this. "They said, "We should have come to you first, not Karen." I said, "No, you should have talked to Tom about it, and if you all couldn't solve it, then you should have all come to me together." "Oh, yeah, we forgot."
First I talked to Mary who is generally laid back and works the most with Tom. She verified that he had said he was going to start working in another office on Thursdays since the doctor he usually assists wouldn't be working that day. He is assigned to another doctor on Thursdays and would have left us short-staffed if he did that. Mary is a peacemaker so her comments held a lot of validity for me.
Since Tom and Sarah are the two that really butt heads, I brought them in together next. I asked Sarah to tell us why she was upset and she recounted the same information Mary had given me. Now it was sounding more like fact than just feelings. I now asked Tom to tell me how he saw things and he completely de-bunked both Mary and Sarah's version of things. I could see by Sarah's face, she was stunned. Tom would not make eye contact, but rather stared out the door of my office with a bored look on his face. When I asked him about it he said he doesn't handle conflict well. Why then, does he always seem to engender conflict?
I told them it was now time to figure out what was fact and what was feelings. As far as what was said, I could have pulled out both their fingernails, and never got the stories to match so I wiped that off the table. I told Tom, "If there is any truth in the idea that you are going to work somewhere else on Thursdays, you will be forfeiting this job." I then told them my impression is that they seem to dislike each other intensely. Sarah said she didn't like the way Tom made it seem that he was the only one who did anything right and that he sabotaged others by hoarding instruments and being a butt-kisser with the dentists. I had seen these problems as well and spoken to him about them before so I was interested to see what he would say. Tom replied, "I feel like I can't be my best because of all of you." Ah ha, it was his feeling, but was it a fact? I thanked Sarah and asked her if she would try to work peacefully and respectfully with Tom. She said she would and apologized to him for any part she'd played in the problem. Tom accepted her apology, but didn't offer one in return.
I pointed out his lack of accepting any responsibility for the problem and he shrugged. I asked him if he had any proof that any of his team mates were impeding his ability to be his best. He said,"Well if I have to worry about whether they have the instruments they need, I might not have what I need when I need it. I also don't want to have to spend time worrying about how I say things so they won't be offended. I was a Marine and I didn't worry about that with my guys." He then said he felt that the other assistants were always looking for things he did wrong and complaining. He said he could see them grouping together and talking and he was sure they were talking about him. I pointed out that he had a lot of feelings about how things were, but that didn't make them facts. I asked him how it might feel to work with someone who thought and felt as he did about his co-workers. The light began to dawn. I reminded him that everyone wants to come to work and be happy and fulfilled. Maybe those people he saw talking were discussing how to better serve a patient, not something about him. They all want to be their best and serve the practice and their patients as well as help each other. He was the only one who seemed to have problems with anyone else. He started to talk about how he might be coming off to the others and how he might approach things in a different way for a better result. I asked him to take a moment to run things through his mind for a moment in the future when he feels inclined to rush in and take over and step on other people's feet. He agreed.
The text message I received that evening was from Sarah. She apologized for her part in the situation and said she realized she'd been dramatic and silly and that she'd handle things differently if another challenge arose. She said she had spoken to Tom and they'd agreed to put it behind them and move on.
People have feelings, that's a fact. As a manager, yes, we have to deal with what seems like kindergarten behavior at times. If we take the time, and have the patience to listen to the feelings, we might uncover some facts that help us decide how to move forward in a positive way. Sometimes the facts are in the feelings.