Dental Staffing

How to Identify Dental Team Conflict

About a year ago I got a call from a colleague practicing in the Midwest. She was beside herself as the Office Manager and the Clinical Team were at odds and she didn’t know what to do. “The negative energy in the office is palpable” and she was at a complete loss. Once on board to help, I learned the Office Manager complained to her and the Clinical Staff complained to her and she was stuck somewhere in the middle.

We devised a plan to clearly understand what the complaints were; we would go to everyone individually and ask them to anonymously type out the issues as they saw them, place them in a plain white envelope and submit them into a box on the Doctor’s desk. They were instructed to not only voice their complaints, but their positive comments were encouraged. They could use names and they were asked to be blatantly honest… no exaggerations, no embellishments, just plain, hard truth as they saw it.

The Doctor placed the plain envelopes in a large brown envelope and mailed them to me. I was astounded at the results of this “survey”; I set out to compile the information in a logical order. The results were interesting, and my conclusion and/or summary is as follows.

1.  Office Manager complaints:

  • Assistant Jan is too loud, she stirs up trouble, she exaggerates everything, she no doubt ‘wears the pants’ in her childless household. Jan is extremely good at what she does, but she’s about 75% of the problems in the office.
  • Assistant Carol is lazy, she wanders up and down the hall working to get out of work. She’s always checking her cell phone. The OM does report that Carol is an upbeat person and she almost never makes a negative comment.
  • Assistant Judy talks too much. She’s always discussing her personal problems with everyone, including patients. Everything is about Judy. Judy had been caught telling   several lies. No positive comments were made about Judy by the OM.

2.  The Clinical Assistant’s complaints:

  • Jan reports the OM is too controlling. She’s a jump/how high Manager instead of creating comradery, allowing the entire Team to be part of the whole. She complains that Carol does not do her part in the day to day productivity of the office.
  • Carol dislikes how much Jan complains about the OM. Carol does report that the OM is very controlling and has that “you don’t need to know” attitude. Further, she notes that when she suggests a better way to handle a situation, the OM ignores or dismisses her ideas, no matter how good they are or how well they will solve a problem in the office.
  • Judy’s experience was that the OM acted as if she didn’t like any of the Clinical Team. Judy further reported how difficult it was working under the direction of the OM knowing fully she wasn’t liked.

After interviewing the entire Team, my conclusions to the complaints were as follows:

  • The OM was controlling and failed to foster a Team-like atmosphere. She appears to be bossy and authoritative. Everyone agreed that those she liked were few and those she didn’t like were obvious.
  • Jan found nothing positive to say about her job or the OM and after fourteen years at this job, I felt it was time for Jan to move on. During a long discussion with Jan, I learned she had interviewed with another company and was waiting to hear if she’d gotten the job. She did get the position and was gone within 30 days.
  • Carol needs to put her phone away and focus on her job. If Jan leaves the practice, she will need to step up to the plate.
  • Judy was dismissed from her position due to her incessant conversation about her personal life.
  • The OM was made to take a sensitivity course to help her recognize how she appears to the Team.

Six months later I got a call from my colleague and here’s what she reported:

  • Jan is gone and the constant complaining from her is gone.
  • Carol has remarkably stepped up to the plate. She’s very happy she doesn’t have to listen to the complaining anymore. She is the last most qualified Dental assistant in the office and has been given a very large raise. She has a better relationship with the OM, but it’s still guarded, but in a pleasant way.
  • Judy has been fired. It was difficult to work with someone who talks about herself constantly. And who couldn’t be trusted.
  • The OM is friendlier and more light-hearted. She continues to have a “need to know” attitude, but she does listen to the Staff more and allows them to participate in more decisions.



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"Conflict can destroy a team which hasn't
spent time learning to deal with it."
- Thomas Isgar