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Whenever people with different personalities work together, there will always be some tension. If a dental practice or DSO is growing fast, tension can easily erupt into what we call “drama.” This drama is usually an emotionally laden conflict or predicament resulting from one or more unexpected events.

When the wheels come off the relationship between two team members, the exposed emotions are usually stifled in front of patients and managers, but the tenseness of anger or frustration can still be felt and disruptive words and actions can erupt, affecting every aspect of your dental practice operations and personal relationship. 

The first step in minimizing drama is understanding where the drama is coming from. At the root is the desire for people to feel significant. They want to feel respected, heard and appreciated. It’s up to the leader to establish that ear for them, that respect and that safety.



The Drama Triangle

Psychologist Dr. Stephen Karpman used triangles to map conflicted or drama-intense relationship transactions, and he defined three roles (or “faces”) in every conflict:

  1. The Persecutor − This face of the triangle reflects someone who is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritative, rigid, or feeling superior.  
  2. The Rescuer −  This face of the triangle is someone saying, "Let me help you." This person feels unkind or guilty if they don’t try to solve the problem and make everyone happy. 
  3. The Victim − This face of the triangle is someone who feels (justifiably or not) misunderstood, oppressed, powerless, or ashamed. If unresolved, this can move to hopelessness or anger and loss of an employee 


According to Karpman, you can’t have a drama triangle without these three roles. In a dental practice, gossip and blame can easily cause a co-worker to feel persecuted. If the victim comes to you, as the practice owner or manager, you may want to jump in and rescue the victim. Rescuing someone can have negative consequences. For example, it can prevent the victim and persecutor from learning how to solve their differences, making them dependent on you. If you do that every day for many years, burnout and resentment grow.


Exiting the Drama Triangle

There is a cure. The rescuer needs to become a coach. So, when someone comes to you with a problem, you coach them to find the solution for themselves. It’s up to the leader to not be emotionally reactive to whatever is going on, to take time for a thoughtful response, and when needed coach team members to appreciate each other’s side and come to a kind and fair agreement. 

When someone comes to you as the leader and says he or she has a problem with someone else, the first step is to ask, “Did you talk to that person yet?” The next step is to coach them through how to have the conversation. After the conversation, if they're still having the issue, allow them to come back to you. When you do that, you are giving yourself breathing room to get some objectivity. You are stepping outside the problem instead of getting sucked in.

Remember these two steps:

  1. Ask the complainant, “Did you talk to that person yet?” Then coach the complainant how to have that conversation.
  2. If the issue is not resolved, allow the complainant to come back to you. Mean while you have time to develop objectivity.
  3. To resolve the issue, you may need to coach the conflicting parties until a resolution is reached.


The Toughest Situation

The toughest situation may be when one of your dental team members says, “I can't work with this person at all.” You might have to make a hard decision if you can’t coach the conflicting parties through the problem. My advice is to respond to the employee with, “That puts me in a really tough situation to have to choose between the two of you. Do you think there might be another way to solve this problem?”  


Treat Dental Team Members Like a Sports Team

Look at the dental team like a sports team. Everyone on that team was hired for a reason. Each brings a certain skill set. Understanding the strengths of each other helps garner respect for and among all team members. Some things are changeable. Some things we have to live with, and it's a tradeoff. We have to learn to accept each other. As long as we give each team member their due importance and make them feel that they're part of the team and equally important, their insecurities are taken care of.

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