When you’re running a dental practice, difficult conversations about staff performance, attitude, professionalism and more may rest entirely on your shoulders. Use these ten simple strategies to help make potentially difficult conversations less uncomfortable and more productive.
1. Prepare to Stay on Track
Receiving criticism can be difficult, even for seasoned professionals. Preparation before your conversation is a way to stay focused if the conversation becomes emotionally-charged. Whether it’s a sticky note or a formal meeting agenda, make a plan to help you remember the important points and keep the conversation on track.
2. Understand Your Motivation
When you’re thinking about having a difficult conversation with an employee, it may be helpful to understand your motivation first. Why do you need to have this conversation? Is there a clear, mutually beneficial outcome in mind? Or do you need to communicate anger, frustration or stress? When you understand your motivations, the right approach to a difficult conversation and the outcome you want to achieve may be clearer.
3. Consider Another Perspective
It may be tempting to believe that your point of view matters most, especially when you’re in charge. But before you have a difficult conversation with an employee of your dental practice, try to see the situation from their point of view. There may be context you don’t have, such as issues in your operational processes that need to be addressed.
4. Aim for a Positive Outcome
Before you begin a difficult conversation or criticize an employee, you may want to consider the outcome you’re hoping to achieve. So, rather than the topic being negative, such as discipline, it may become positive such as making a commitment to understand the problem and improve.
Working towards a positive outcome can help you to end the conversation in a way that’s beneficial to both of you. Negative outcomes, on the other hand, might strain your working relationship and be detrimental to your dental practice. Try keeping your intended outcome top of mind during the entire conversation to stay focused and routed towards that goal.
5. Staying Professional
Difficult conversations can make emotions run high, on all sides. If the other person challenges your criticisms, it’s easy to take it personally and react negatively. It may be helpful to prepare yourself for a negative reaction by running through the conversation in your head with a few different outcomes, planning a professional reaction for each. If your criticisms are justified, sharing them with the right person is usually the appropriate action.
6. Focus on Behavior
When a staff member is behaving unprofessionally or makes a mistake, consider how you perceive it. You may want to avoid using that one situation to represent them as a person. Depending on the severity of the behavior, give them time and space to self-correct.
Confronting someone with criticism of who they are may also not go over well. Instead, consider focusing on the impact the behavior or mistake had on other people and productivity. They may be less likely to take it personally.
7. Put the Patients and the Practice First
Even though you may be the one initiating the conversation, consider putting your needs after those of the patient and the practice as a whole. After all, you want what’s good for the business, not just what’s best for you personally. Framing a difficult conversation this way may help the individual to respond positively, without feeling like they’ve been personally targeted.
8. Saying We, Not You
Statements like “You didn’t…” or “Why did you…” may make employees feel attacked. Statements like “We need…” and “Let’s work on…” may communicate your dedication to finding a solution that works for everyone, for the greater good.
Time, experience and preparation all go a long way to helping you have difficult conversations with supports in your practice. Applying strategies like these might not be unique or help you avoid staff issues altogether, but they might help give you an early advantage in skills you’d naturally develop over time.
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