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Episode #534: How To Make Conflict Healthy in Your Practice, with Kirk Behrendt & Heather Crockett

Conflict can be helpful and productive. It starts with a safe, open environment where you and your team can communicate. To help you create that space in your practice, Kirk Behrendt brings back Heather Crockett, one of ACT’s amazing lead coaches, to share the secret to building trust and vulnerability with your team. Channel frustration in a healthy, productive, and meaningful way! To learn how, listen to Episode 534 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Traction by Gino Wickman:

Main Takeaways:

Before anything else, have your core values set in place.

Understand destructive versus productive conflict.

Discuss and define what conflict is as a team.

Be willing to engage in productive conflict.

Don’t settle for artificial harmony.


“I want to start with our favorite equation, E – R = C, expectations minus reality equals conflict. If our expectations and the reality don’t match, conflict ensues. This is something we talk about a lot. When this conflict happens, especially amongst team members or with yourself and a team member, what do you do? And how do we put a system, a protocol, in place for when it does happen? How do we deal with it?” (2:34—3:04) -Heather

“I hated conflict. So, what I would create was called artificial harmony. If you think of this spectrum, on one side of the spectrum, you have this artificial harmony, which is, ‘It’s okay. It’s not a big deal. I don’t want everybody to be upset. We’re just going to get along for today.’ And what it does is it creates unresolved conflict that ultimately becomes a crisis. And then you’ve got, on the other end of the spectrum, destructive conflict, where you’re driving conflict. And your job as a leader, as a parent, as a spouse, is to find the sweet spot in between.” (3:12—3:49) -Kirk

“In the past, I would have team members say, ‘You don’t trust me. You don’t trust me.’ Well, we’ve got to have rules, and I’ve got to stick to the rules. Part of the rules is how do we communicate. You’ve got to have core values, and you’ve got to have structured meetings. And when you start to have these rules, these are called boundaries, people know what to expect and you can engineer some vulnerability where you can share how you’re feeling. But it’s in an environment that’s protected by these boundaries for how you conduct those meetings.” (4:34—5:03) -Kirk

“We talk about having rules and being able to be vulnerable with your team. That’s the kind of trust that we want. Once we have that layer in place, now we can move on and talk about conflict. Well, what does conflict look like? What kind of things about conflict bother you or bother your team members? Everybody has their own story. Everyone has a history of how they’ve dealt with conflict in the past. And this oftentimes will shape our character and how we deal with conflict now as adults. We don’t know that about one another until we have the conversation.” (5:06—5:40) -Heather

“At ACT, we have a great resource that we use with our clients called our Conflict Personal Histories exercise where we have that conversation. We give room for that discussion, and we talk about the things that happened when we were kids and adolescents and moving on from there so that we understand more. I can ask you, ‘What was conflict like when you were younger? What things were okay, and what things were not okay?’ My kids know that when daddy swears, he means business. He doesn’t swear very often. But when he does, that’s when they understand and know, ‘Okay, daddy is really mad.’ He is, in fact, shaping their conflict history now. So, when they’re adults, if someone swears, it might make them feel uncomfortable. And so, the same thing is going to happen with every other situation.” (5:40—6:33) -Heather

“We’ve had team members share experiences that they’ve had where they didn’t experience yelling growing up. And when they got married, their in-laws, their family did yell, and it was normal for them to yell. So, you see how everyone experiences conflict a little bit differently through their life, and that then shows up as adults when we are interacting with one another. Someone’s take on conflict is going to be different from another.” (6:37—7:04) -Heather

“People that don’t deal with conflict, it ultimately becomes a very unhealthy situation. And then, it explodes in a fragmentation of the relationship. And that’s a tough place to be.” (7:26—7:39) -Kirk

“Start with a discussion of what conflict is, what feels normal for your team, and what feels abnormal and uncomfortable. And then, move into conflict agreements where you’re going to agree as a team not to swear, not to raise your voice, all of those things, where we’re going to use a calm tone of voice, we’re going to speak our minds. Any of those items are going to be on your agreement list. And then, have everyone on the team sign it.” (7:42—8:08) -Heather

“As a team, I would encourage you to sit down and define what [destructive conflict and artificial harmony] looks like. Destructive conflict is when we are passive-aggressive, when we’re mean-spirited, we are attacking the person and not the issue. Artificial harmony is when we have something to say, and we don’t say it. And when we don’t say it, we are actually engaging in destructive conflict in a roundabout way and doing more harm than we are good.” (8:16—8:45) -Heather

“There’s a whole chapter [in Traction] on the issues component and IDS. IDS stands for Identify, Discuss, and Solve. And when I bring this to the teams that I coach, I actually encourage them to change Discuss to Debate, because that’s what helps to foster this healthy conflict. I’m going to come to this IDS session. We’re going to look through these issues. Once we’ve identified it, I’m going to debate. I’m going to say, ‘This is my idea. This is my thought. This is why I think this will work.’ And there’s a good chance somebody else on the team, this happens often, has a better idea. And if they don’t say that out loud and they hold that back, that’s not doing the team any favors.” (11:48—12:33) -Heather

“I don’t have any team that I’m coaching that doesn’t have a core value that’s related to respect or teamwork. And when that destructive conflict enters into the practice, it brushes up against your core values, which is why it feels so icky. And that’s when we need to address the behavior with a courageous conversation with that team member to say, ‘Listen, this is one of our core values. These are the nonnegotiable behaviors for the practice and how we behave in the practice.’ In addition to that, remember, destructive conflict is that mean-spirited, you’re attacking someone and not the issue. That’s when you need to pull them aside and have that conversation. And I would lean very heavily on core values.” (14:18—15:08) -Heather

“Don’t get mad at people. Get mad at a system.” (15:34—15:36) -Kirk

“The first step is awareness. Think of what the first thing is that pops in your head when you think of conflict. And what you and I are describing today, I’m hoping that it’s going to change your mind about what you hear, what you think of when you hear the word conflict. Now, when it goes to that destructive line, you are going to recognize it now more than ever because you’ve listened to this podcast. You’re welcome. It’s a gift.” (16:16—16:45) -Heather

“Level 10 meetings give structured space to produce that productive conflict. We rate all of our meetings . . . from one to 10. I won’t rate it a 10 if we didn’t have some kind of productive conflict.” (19:03—19:22) -Heather

“Go for the big conflict right away. When you identify the biggest issue in any meeting and you make a commitment as a team to stick to the rules on our core values and IDS it, what you find is that solving the biggest problem or attacking the largest conflict in the room often solves other smaller conflicts because they’re interrelated. They’ve often multiplied as a result of the main conflict and created other conflicts.” (19:36—20:09) -Kirk

“Don’t be afraid to engage in productive conflict. Be ready for it to feel a little weird and different. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Be sure that you set those rules and agreements beforehand. And be prepared to be relieved, because having that productive conflict will propel your practice forward in a way that you’ve never been able to before.” (21:06—21:30) -Heather

“Remember, you spend 30% of your life at work. Make sure you get to a place where it’s healthy, it’s productive conflict, people trust you, and we know we’re going to be okay.” (21:35—21:45) -Kirk


0:00 Introduction.

1:40 The reality of conflict.

3:06 Artificial harmony.

4:14 Know your team’s history with conflict.

8:09 Define destructive conflict and artificial harmony with your team.

8:46 The anatomy of an excellent meeting.

11:45 Why IDS (Identify, Discuss, and Solve) is important.

12:35 Have your core values in place.

13:42 Signs that conflict is destructive.

16:56 It’s better to be clear than nice.

18:10 Learn how to have Level 10 meetings.

19:35 Identify and solve the big conflicts ASAP.

21:01 Last thoughts.

Heather Crockett Bio:

Heather Crockett is a Lead Practice Coach who finds joy in not only improving practices but improving the lives of those she coaches as well. With over 20 years of combined experience in assisting, office management, and clinical dental hygiene, her awareness supports many aspects of the practice setting.

Heather received her dental hygiene degree from the Utah College of Dental Hygiene in 2008. Networking in the dental community comes easy to her, and she loves to connect with like-minded colleagues on social media. Heather enjoys both attending and presenting continuing education to expand her knowledge and learn from her friends and colleagues.

She enjoys hanging out with her husband, three sons, and their dog, Moki, scrolling through social media, watching football, and traveling.


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