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Kill Your Conflict with Clarity

The Internet makes it so easy to grow and advertise your business, but it can be a double-edged sword. It gives both your happy and unhappy patients a voice, and it’s those negative comments that stick with you. Sometimes it feels like patients can hold you hostage with their reviews, but I recently spoke with Dr. Erin Elliot on the topic of conflict resolution, and she advised to not let the fear of a one-star review hold you back. In fact, when you learn how to manage conflict effectively in your practice, fear of a negative review won’t even be on your radar!

Approach the Issue Head-On

The most important thing to remember when dealing with conflict is that you need to be direct. The sooner you can get to the heart of the matter and address it, the sooner you can resolve it. Dr. Elliot said that when a team member notifies her of a conflict, she immediately reaches out to the patient, because she likes to get involved as soon as possible. There’s a tendency for tempers to flare when a patient is unhappy, and when she can personally intervene, it makes the fires go out and the tempers calm down. I’ve found that most of the time people are upset, they really just want to be heard. Simply by reaching out, you’re showing that you care, and that makes a big difference to an upset patient.

A big component is understanding what your role in the conflict is. Dr. Elliot remarked that most of the time it’s due to a miscommunication, so think about where you went wrong. Even if it’s conflict between the patient and a team member, you need to make sure that you’re leading them correctly and not pointing blame at someone else. Like the saying goes, “When you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.” It can be difficult to accept that some of the responsibility lies with you, but it’s powerful when you do. 

Attitude is Everything

Demeanor is also critical—both yours and the patient’s. Again, there’s a good chance that the patient will be upset and come at you guns blazing, but Dr. Elliot refuses to negotiate with terrorists. If a patient is hostile from the start, she shuts it down and won’t deal with the patient until they’re ready to have a civil conversation. It’s incredibly difficult to come to a satisfactory resolution when tempers are high, so just pause and make sure that everyone is cool and unemotional before you start a dialogue. 

It may seem like you want to be nice in order to create an atmosphere of understanding, but as Dr. Elliot pointed out, the word “nice” has an etymological meaning of “ignorant” or “stupid,” and it’s not actually a positive thing when resolving conflict. Like I instruct my coaches, “Don’t be nice, be clear.” This isn’t license to be mean, of course, but rather encouragement to use clarity to be direct and address the issue head-on.

Dealing with upset patients and resolving the conflict is a lesson you’re better off learning sooner rather than later. No matter how great your technical or interpersonal skills are, conflict is something that cannot be avoided. There will eventually be someone who doesn’t like you, or someone that had a different mental image of what their results would be. However, if you approach them coolly and directly, you can de-escalate the situation and prevent the patient from slamming you with a negative review. Sharpening your ability to communicate can be difficult, so check out our Mastering Verbal Skills webinar series and learn how your language matters. To take it even further, reach out to the ACT coaches and get their help with integrating these skills into your practice, because communication is a critical component to a Better Practice, and a Better Life!

Kirk Behrendt is the CEO and Founder of ACT Dental


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