On many occasions, I have come to know practices that are operating extremely well, are profitable, and employ a stable staff. All until…something happens: a spouse is transferred, pregnancy, or a move to (allegedly) greener pastures. What was once a well-run machine now has a wrench thrown in the works. Successful management of this type of event will depend largely on the strength of the practices' personnel management and the leadership abilities of the doctor.

Whenever a new employee is acquired and introduced into the practice at any position, careful thought and consideration must be given to the person's skills, ability to meet the qualifications of the job, and personality traits. After checking the new hire's references and verifying skill level, what may be most difficult to ascertain during the interview process is the candidate's personality style.

There are four distinct personality traits. Learning these traits, understanding them, and embracing the fact that everyone is different is the first step towards blending people together as a team. A combination of these traits among the members of the team will help your office relate to a broader spectrum of people who frequent your practice.

Controller or Director
These people must be in charge. They are strong willed, decisive, direct in their approach, and tend to be domineering. They make quick decisions based on what is best for them. They care little how decisions affect others. They are interested in results, not emotions. They are willing risk-takers. They are always in a hurry. They want the straight facts and will quickly decide on a course of action.

Analyzers or Engineers
They must have all the facts before reaching a decision. They will desire every bit of information you have available concerning the job, and they often request more. If you try to rush them into a decision, they will become frustrated. They are unemotional, detail-oriented, and proceed with decisions slowly and methodically. They are definitely not risk-takers.

Promoters or Cheerleaders
They look at the big picture and don't sweat the details. They are fun-loving folks, often storytellers. They make decisions quickly, frequently without benefit of the facts. They tend to be self-centered, to live for the moment, and are enjoyable to be around. They are often most concerned with appearance, and they are definitely risk-takers. They have little interest in the details of the task and will be turned off by such information.

Supporters or Helpers
They are reluctant to make decisions. They work well with people, having tremendous concern for the feelings of others. They are very anxious about how their actions affect others and are intensely uncomfortable with conflict. They go along with other people's decisions easily and are excellent workers. They will also take on more work to ease someone else's job; but in the end may not be able to complete the additional work; they have difficulty in delegating to others.

These personality traits exist today in every dental office among all team members. Despite pre-conceived notions, there's no specific personality trait for each position. Not all excellent administrative or front office workers are "Controllers or Directors"; not all great dental assistants are "Promoters or Cheerleaders".

Consider your own personality. A dentist could have any one of these personality traits and find harmony as well as conflict with other traits. This is true for the rest of your team. And keep in mind; this is true of your patients and their families who frequent your practice.

Blending these personality traits brings into focus the big picture. As a team, you will be better able to relate to a wide variety of people in ways that make them feel comfortable. You will in turn build trust and confidence in their minds for your ability to care for them.

Here are some down-to-earth approaches that you and your team can undertake that will help make use of workplace styles and personalities. Consider first the application among yourselves, then apply them where appropriate to patient services:

  1. Understand your differences: Pay attention to feedback, assimilate it and apply it to solving issues or praising for a job well done.
  2. Keep lines of communication open: Address any concerns immediately before they snowball.
  3. Be Proactive: Develop a knack for thinking ahead.
  4. Keep everyone in the loop: People don't like surprises or embarrassment. When things are going well, a short message or conversation, would suffice. When a problem arises, don't hide it; explain and offer solutions.
  5. Be a rock: Show up early, meet deadlines and volunteer to help others when you have free time.
  6. Don't take criticism personally: Keep an open mind, control your emotions and stand up for yourself, politely, but firmly.
  7. Don't play games: Never criticize or gossip about people, and mind your own business.
  8. Know people's quirks and accommodate them: Does he/she prefer notes, formal memos, or communication face-to-face?
  9. Pitch ideas: Make sure they're reasoned, solution-oriented and will benefit the function of the practice, not just to make your own workload easier.
  10. Speak clearly: Collect your thoughts, write down what is needed or be concise when verbalizing your needs.
  11. Stay Cool: Avoid losing your temper. Don't be defensive. Control emotions and hold back negativity in self and among the team. Be positive and sensible in dealing with workplace conflict.

Building great relationships with people at every turn is key to good management, and ever more important in today's changing times. A sluggish economy has forced layoffs and other cutbacks in businesses of any size, resulting in high stress, low moral, and concerns about job security. People have fewer options in terms of walking away, and keeping a job has more to do with demonstrating both technical and interpersonal skills. During the late 1990's, dentistry was experiencing widespread growth and prosperity. In comparison, it's more difficult to sustain growth and profit today.

No matter how experienced a person is, it is inevitable that conflict within the work place will arise. It's inevitable because its human nature. Handling conflict in such a way that it creates an alliance, rather than an obstacle, is the result of successful management of people.

Small businesses such as dental offices rely on outstanding people performance. Managing people and personalities are the foundation for retaining patients, keeping an excellent team of people, and sustaining profits.