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The High Cost of Low Morale

The two primary risks facing dental practices are staff turnover and unproductive time in the schedule. There are many practice management techniques that teach how to enhance the quality of your professional life and increase profitability; however, finding ways to reduce these primary risks remains the cornerstone of a wellrun practice.

Low morale has accounted for theft, incomplete projects, missed work days, tardiness, insubordination, team conflict, poor patient care, resignation, termination, and ultimately a total burnout within the profession. Where does low morale come from? How can you combat it in your office? 

Dental teams are faced with a variety of challenges every day. OSHA and HIPAA compliance, technology glitches, and need for constant improvements—combined with personality issues of both team members and patients—create a highstress environment. “On Time, Every Time, With Perfection” seems to be the mantra within our profession. 

Interestingly, during seminars, I’ll often give participants about 2 minutes to write down all the emotions they experience in a typical week. (You may want to put down this article and try this experiment yourself). At the end of 2 minutes, the average number of emotions listed typically ranges from 3 to 12. Twelve! Think about this—there are literally thousands of words that can be used to describe the emotional complexity of human experiences, yet most of us rely on a pattern of about 7 to 12 words. 

Given the pressures in our profession, it may not come as a surprise that when we list the emotions into positive and negative categories, most participants rank 80% or more of their list in the negative category. If your list is composed of less than a dozen emotions, 9 of which are negative, this article is for you.

America is a society of advertisements and messaging. From our favorite radio station to the local news and weather, we are being “sold” something almost every moment of the day. We have learned to subconsciously and rapidly evaluate whether to accept or reject information. We jump to instant conclusions about what things mean because there is too much stimuli in our environment to take everything in and have meaningful assessment of what is really happening. This false sense of “instant accuracy” of what things mean can often create emotional experiences that are neither pleasant nor correct.

The first step in creating a dynamic, inspiring career is to change the way you label your experience. Perhaps you came into the practice on a Monday, and one of your teammates walked past you without saying a word. Did you think to yourself, “What’s up with her?” or “I wonder if she’s mad at me?” Did you stretch yourself to think nothing of it or did you think “She seems very focused and purposeful this morning.” 

Most people do not automatically give people the benefit of the doubt or label experiences in the most positive light. The top 6 emotions listed by dental teams are frustration, confusion, resistance, anxiety, fear, and the feeling of being on a treadmill. Let’s explore each of these and the possible message they can be sending you.

Frustration is the breakfast of champions. It is one of the most positive emotions people can feel, if they understand what it means. Frustration exists when you have a clear goal or result that you want to achieve, and it is not happening as rapidly as you’d like it to. Get excited. The first message here is that you are still committed. Commitment is truly the main ingredient of success, so if you are experiencing frustration, you should first get reconnected to your commitment and outcome.

Next, understand that there may be parts of your strategy that are not working. Identify these areas, realign your resources, and continue to move forward, monitoring your progress. Great questions to ask when you are frustrated are the following: 

  • What do we need to do?
  • Are we willing to do this?
  • How can we align people, time, money, and resources for this project?

Teams experience confusion when there is a lack of shared vision. Either your team has not created a vision, does not believe in it, or has forgotten the purpose for doing what you do. Now would be a great time to go to your leader and ask the following questions:

  • What are we committed to as a team?
  • What can I do to support that purpose?
  • How can we get everyone excited about our vision?
  • If we were living our purpose, how would the daytoday operation of our practice differ?
  • What are your top priorities for my position?

Becoming clear on the vision of your practice, the purpose your office serves in the community, and the importance of your role can alleviate your sense of confusion. Knowing what is specifically expected of you and how to prioritize your time will help you make better decisions and assist in following through with clarity on various projects.

Living with this emotion for long periods of time can make you old and tired. Children very rarely put up resistance to new ideas or challenges. In fact, they actively create new scenarios! This is called using your imagination.

Adults typically become accustomed to rationalizing everything, needing to put all experiences in a box. This helps us make “intelligent and familiar choices” in our world. As this process becomes highly developed, so does our resistance to those things we cannot easily label. We’ve lost our curiosity, so resistance sets in. 

You know you are on the path of resistance when you are thinking “What’s in it for me?” Engaging in projects that have unknown benefits or rewards creates both confusion and resistance. Here’s how you overcome this:

  • Get curious! What could be great about this?
  • Are the benefits consistent with our commitments to patient care or team service?
  • How will this ultimately benefit our practice?

Knowing why you are engaging in a project creates 80% of the success. Get clear on the benefits long before you commit to change. This will help to eliminate resistance and create success much faster.

Thankfully, most anxious moments do not require Valium! Anxiety most commonly appears in dental offices when we are asked to do things that are outside our skill set. It can be embarrassing to ask for help—again. Please understand, if you are feeling anxious about your skill levels, it is more than appropriate to ask for additional training. The outcome of patient care relies on the strong skill sets of every team member.

It may help to remember that there are no defects in people, only in systems. If you do not have the proper skills to perform the tasks asked of you, there is a breakdown in the training system or the way that information is communicated. Go to your doctor or supervisor and say, “I’m having difficulty with xyz, and I’d like to know how I can gain additional training in this area.” Or ask, “I know we reviewed this process in the staff meeting, and I learn best by actually doing this type of procedure with someone watching. Would you be willing to work with me a couple of times until I’m sure that I’ve got the process?”

Fear sets in when we lose our faith. This can be a loss of faith in yourself, the team, the protocols, or the outlook for the future. Finding ways to provide support for your abilities and an outlet for expressing yourself is critical. Don’t waste a moment before identifying the root cause of your fear. The greatest aspect of this emotion is that once you’ve identified its cause and faced it, fear rapidly disappears. Start turning your attention to the positive side of the situation and the elements you can control by asking the following questions:

  • What is working?
  • In what areas have we grown?
  • What would we have to believe in order to be fearless.

Remember, bold action almost always chases away fear!

This is that feeling of exhaustion without visible results. You begin feeling as if you are spinning your wheels and going nowhere. What this feeling is telling you is that there is lack of an action plan or lack of a monitoring process to acknowledge achievements. Take time to regroup, reassess needs, and make adjustments in your plan. The following simple plan will get you back on track:

  • Commit to the outcome.
  • Be clear on the purpose.
  • Design your action plan.
  • Monitor the results.
  • Change your approach until you achieve your outcome.

If dentistry is truly a team sport, then hearing the words of one of the greatest coaches of our time would be relevant. According to John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach, “Success is peace of mind obtained only through selfsatisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”

Here are some of Wooden’s favorite maxims. 

  • Happiness begins where selfishness ends.
  • Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.
  • If I am through learning, I am through.
  • Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember a story.
  • Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.
  • Don’t permit what you cannot do to interfere with what you can do.
  • Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.
  • Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

Through disciplined application of these principles, asking different questions, and getting curious about the meaning of your emotions, you can transform both your career and your life. I encourage you to apply these to your practice and reap the rewards of developing a successful team with high spirit.

Ms. McManus coaches the best of the best to get even better! For more information call (888) 3474785.


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