You might call it office politics, a personality conflict, workplace bullying or drama, whatever label it has, gossip, backstabbing and catty behavior are alive and well in many medical facilities. It will undermine the productivity of your team and cause your patients to question the professionalism of your office. That is in addition to you wasting your time dealing with ‘petty’ problems between your staff. If you are like many leaders there are days you want to scream, “Just shut-up and do your job!” Fortunately there are proactive steps you can take to address and eliminate workplace drama.
Every human being has a unique way he/she uses language called a communication fingerprint. What words and inflections mean, what types of behavior are rude or insulting as opposed to funny and what silence means vary from person to person. The more diverse your staff, the better chance you have of misunderstandings and hurt feelings boiling over into emotional war. Most leaders make the mistake of ignoring these differences and assuming everyone will just ‘act like adults’. On rare occasions people will just click. But the majority of the time when left up to hope and luck, a negative, resentful undercurrent will develop and may turn into angry confrontations.
In order to counteract the cycle of hurt feelings, gossip, bitterness and more hurt feelings it is important to develop a healthy team communication fingerprint; an agreed upon way that disagreements are resolved, how help is requested or offered, and how information is relayed. The smaller your team the easier it will be to get everyone on-board. Larger teams often take more time but it is not only possible, it is crucial if your team is going to provide the best patient care.
Teams who have been working with a less than ideal team communication fingerprint often have existing grudges and deep seated issues that need to be resolved before the team can move forward. An unaddressed negative environment can continue to flourish even when there is staff turnover. Firing or transferring a ‘trouble maker’ will not solve the problem. There are only three choices. 1 – Leave things as they are and deal with the miserable environment that is likely contributing to poor patient care. 2 – Eliminate everyone, start over from scratch and create an effective communication fingerprint. 3 – Address the issues, air the problems and show the team how to move forward.
The corner stone to a healthy team communication fingerprint is the use of productive conflict resolution. Unfortunately, it is often thought that only very high level executives need to know how to get differing ideas on the table, work through them, and develop a solution that can be supported. This false assumption leaves everyone else floundering. Successful leaders at all levels now realize that providing training in the use of productive conflict resolution eliminates the time and energy drain that office drama creates. And less employee infighting means better care for patients.
The best way to start the process of using productive conflict is to challenge the negative assumptions people often make about one another. It is easy to assume someone did something out of spite or meanness when it may actually be a lack of training or a misunderstanding. Suggest assuming the positive, making up a positive or neutral reason the person may have chosen to do what they did and having an open dialog about why they made the choices they did.
Once a team communication fingerprint has been developed it becomes possible to set clear expectations that team members understand and to which they can hold each other accountable. Leaders of high functioning teams report that they are less likely to be drawn into ‘petty’ disagreements which have escalated into major problems because team members have the ability to discuss and resolve concerns on their own.
Great leaders know that developing highly productive teams which continuously reach their potential requires a work environment free of bickering and bitterness. The amount of effort needed to proactively address drama is minimal to what it will cost in time, energy and risk to patient care if it is ignored.
Dr. Robyn Odegaard is the owner of the speaking/consulting company Champion Performance Development and author of the book ‘Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams’. For more ideas on how you and your team can achieve great things visit the Champion Performance Topic of the Week at www.ChampPerformance.com.