How do you address uncomfortable situations with your teammates and maintain a friendly work relationship? It can be done.
1. Passive-aggressive coworkers
Jen Butler, MEd.
People who rely on passive-aggressive communication do so because they don't know any better. They are relying on habits formed during their childhood. So rest assured it has nothing to do with you. However, this doesn't always make it easy to talk with someone who is passive-aggressive, so keep the following things in mind.
The first thing you can do is stay calm. Passive-aggressiveness comes from fear: fear of conflict, not being liked, change, challenge, showing weakness, and on and on. Knowing that the person you are dealing with is fearful, it's important not to overreact, as overreaction perpetuates the behavior. Stay calm and take a deep breath, tell yourself to relax, and think about what you want out of the conversation.
During this conversation, focus on facts, not feelings. Facts include all of those elements of a situation that are trackable, observable, and measurable. Even though your feelings are important, they are not always relevant.
Next, it's important to resist the temptation to mirror the person's behavior. If a coworker jumped off a bridge, would you follow him? I know that is your mom talking, but the second way to work with these team members is to resist the temptation to mirror poor communication habits. Instead, smile, show empathy, ask questions, and state what you want and what you don't.
"Coworker, I want us to figure out a way to take our lunches while covering the phones. I don't want to upset you or disrupt the entire schedule."
2. Someone you don't like
It's normal to have varying levels of like and dislike for the people you work with. How you manage it and work together in spite of these feelings is the key.
“Dental teams are most successful when they can articulate everyone's strengths and navigate everyone's weaknesses.”
Understand why you don't like the person. When you know why, you can do something about it. Not doing something about it isn't an option.
Next, remember that every person has some unlikable element of his or her character -- even you. To not like someone based on a select few traits is not a recipe for success. Dental teams are most successful when they can articulate everyone's strengths and navigate everyone's weaknesses.
Finally, sometimes you just need to get over it. If there is someone who really pushes your buttons, remember, it's not for you to fix them or help them change. Not liking them is your issue, not theirs.
Gossip is a bad habit that can be highly destructive to dental teams. Through gossip, teams become fractured, people are singled out, and, ultimately, communication breaks down. In a dental office, every team member has an important and specific role. When one team member feels out of place, there is much more lost than team member relationships. Your patient care will also suffer.
There are several ways to handle gossip, starting with not being drawn in. If a team member begins to gossip, immediately excuse yourself. Even listening to the gossip validates the behavior.
Then consider confronting the team member. Sometimes, people don't realize what they are doing is considered gossiping.
It can be as simple as, "Coworker, did you know that when you talk like that, it sounds gossipy?" Or try, "Coworker, I'm sure you wouldn't like it if X talked about you like that. Let's change the subject."
If the behavior continues, deal with the issue, not the person. Gossip kills more teams than anything else. When you approach your coworker, be sure to make it about the behavior and not about the person.
"Today, when you talked about X, it made me [insert emotion/thought]. In order for our team to function at its best, it's important that we address issues upfront. How can you talk to X directly?"
4. Working with a friend
One of the best things about a dental office is the kind of people who work there. It's no wonder team members often start out friendly and turn into friends. As much as it can be great to work with people you're close to, there are cautionary lines to remember.
Setting clear, defined, and unconditional boundaries is necessary for friends to work well together. For example: How do you handle Monday morning if you've had a spat over the weekend? Thinking about this and other issues beforehand helps.
Also, try to make sure you are not only hanging out together. When at work, associate with other team members more than each other. It builds overall team bonds, shows others you are committed to the team as a whole, and gives you the necessary break every friendship needs to be successful.
Ultimately, staying professional is the key. How you act, treat, communicate, and partner with other teammates is the same consideration you show your friend. Under no circumstances should any personal interactions happen that wouldn't happen with anyone else. If professional lines are crossed, it's time to go back to the first point and set boundaries.
Jen Butler, MEd, is the CEO and founder of JB Partners and has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency training for more than 25 years. Learn about her services at www.jenbutlerpartners.com, or contact her at jen@JenButlerPartners.com.
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