Very little damages the culture of dental practices like creating a culture full of complaining. Whether the complaining is within the team or a team member is complaining to a manager, a practice culture with complaining as a norm should not be tolerated.
Complaints create contagious negative energy in your practice that must be turned around. For example, team member complaints impact how other team members view your practice.
Eventually, your practice will suffer if people are complaining about it. As tough as it might feel, you can reduce or even eliminate complaining in your practice. Here's how.
Recognize complaints for what they are.
At their core, complaints are merely the result of unmet expectations. Someone expected or wanted one thing to happen and it did not happen. It is hardly ever anything personal about the practice or leadership.
Identify the unmet expectation.
When a dentist, team member, or patient complains, resist any urge to take it personally. We invest so much into our practice, building a culture, setting goals, building our teams, and investing in tools and technology. We work so hard to make it the best practice we can. When someone complains about it, it is easy for us to take it personally.
For example, if you have everyone create vision boards and invest in better systems and processes, your team will expect things to consistently improve. If you do not follow through on improving the practice, team members' expectations will go unmet and they will get frustrated; they expected positive changes that never happened.
Similarly, if you invest in helping your team improve but they do not follow through, you will likely get frustrated. Your expectations of team improvement will go unmet.
The next time someone complains in your practice, ask yourself what expectation went unmet to identify what is really the issue.
Be honest and upfront about the expectations.
Once you identify the issue, be honest and upfront about the expectation that went unmet. Was the person reasonable to expect that? Were they unreasonable? If they were reasonable but something changed to make it no longer possible, did you communicate with them when the change was happening?
Being honest and upfront with yourself and your team can often reduce frustrations from unmet expectations. Over time, that will build trust so your team gives you the benefit of the doubt when an expectation goes unmet. Instead of complaining in the future, they will be more likely to follow up with you or their team leader in a healthy way.
Avoid complaint policies that create an unhealthy culture.
For years, people believed the best way to handle complaints was to ensure anonymity or confidentiality. They encouraged businesses to give people a way to submit anonymous complaints or at least promise “blanket confidentiality” no matter how small the issue was. The reasoning behind these policies was that they would encourage people to express concerns. Unfortunately, the reasoning was flawed. In reality, those policies are very dangerous to practice cultures and are diametrically opposed to creating a healthy workplace culture. They create an environment of whispers, secrets, and paranoia. Your team grows to distrust each other.
Of course, serious situations like sexual harassment should be handled with appropriate confidentiality. But giving blanket confidentiality for small issues creates an uncomfortable and unhealthy environment. It also puts leaders in the position of knowing something that needs to be changed but not being able to change anything because doing so would break the promise of confidentiality.
A healthy workplace is one in which people feel comfortable being vulnerable and expressing concerns without fear of repercussions.
Close any “complaint departments.”
To start transitioning your practice from one full of complaints to one with healthy issue resolution practices, you must close existing “complaint departments.”
“Complaint departments” are generally people who others complain to without any likelihood of the issue getting resolved, usually because that person does not have authority to resolve the issue. Complaint departments only make things worse.
Talk with any people who act as complaint departments. Let them know the problem and how they are hurting the team. Sometimes, that will shut things down. In extreme cases, it might require letting the person go. Either way, complaint departments must be shut down.
Use the IDS process to a culture of healthy resolutions.
After getting rid of unhealthy policies and closing complaint departments, the next step is to replace those things with a healthier process.
Team members and leaders need to develop the ability to be open, honest, and vulnerable with each other so they can get help to resolve issues. They need to understand the concept of frustrations resulting from unmet expectations and the value of not falling into the trap of taking things personally.
Encourage everyone to raise issues as early as possible so small issues get resolved while they are still small.
Utilize the IDS process to identify, discuss, and solve issues as soon as they arise. It takes practice and patience to make IDS work but it is the best way to get your entire team to focus on the issue they need to be resolved instead of the people or emotions involved.
We recommend you use the IDS process as a core part of running weekly team meetings.
Create healthy communication habits among your team.
When someone has a complaint or concern about someone else, ask them the following question: “Are you going to tell them, or am I going to tell them? Because one of them needs to tell them.”
For example, if one team member isn't working fast enough, someone needs to have a conversation with them. The frustration with their slow work is an unmet expectation; the person complaining expected faster work. Without talking with the person, you will have no way to understand what the underlying reason is and identify an issue.
Also, while it might be uncomfortable at first, this creates a healthy environment in which everyone is more comfortable having difficult conversations with each other.
Are people complaining too much in your practice?
A culture full of complaints will never allow you to reach your full potential. Use this process to reduce those complaints and build a healthy environment in which issues get identified, discussed, and resolved without anyone needing to complain.
To learn more about creating a healthy culture for your practice, our team of expert coaches and training resources in our Delivering WOW Platinum Mastermind Program can help.
You can also join my free Dental Marketing and Profits Facebook group, where thousands of dentists and I help each other build better practices.