23 Nov 2015  •  Practice Management  •  4min read By  • Sheila Scott

How to Avoid Staff Wars!

As experienced business coach and psychologist Sheila Scott well knows, the biggest challenge facing managers or practice owners, at any time, is usually that of directing, guiding and motivating all team members. Most manage this well through the use of excellent business focus, empathy and communication skills, but it is true that most managers also have to deal with difficult staff problems at sometime in their illustrious careers.

These may involve the team member who can’t get along with their colleagues; who listens to everyone’s whinges and feeds dissatisfaction back into the team like a long slow drip; who can’t ever see the wood for the trees but who sees the unfairness of it all; who nods agreement to every plan and sticks steadfastly to their old ways at all times; or just a plain old plodder who never comes up to the mark, no matter how simple the task.

Problems like these can sap even a great manager’s strengths, energy and confidence. They creep into the happiness and energy of other team members and hold the practice back from achieving its potential. So they must be tackled immediately, with fortitude and confidence.

The answer is not to think up elaborate plots to ‘get rid’ of the problem person! This is unfair to both team member and manager as well as being dangerous to the practice-it’s too easy to fall foul of our very protective employment laws and land the practice with a costly employment tribunal or settlement.

The answer is not to organise some exciting team training day to skirt around the general problem in the hope that it will be resolved or will resolve itself. The answer is effective management communication.

The formula for this type of management communication, which is called motivational feedback, is simply:

Use the word ‘I’ as in ‘I saw you…’ ‘I heard you’ ,’I noticed you’


Explain exactly what you saw or heard your team member do. Be careful to only use exact descriptions of what happened. Don’t try to summarise or explain why you thought your team member did something. Don’t use judgemental words  like ‘aggressive’ or ‘unprofessional’ when describing what you saw or heard, this will only provoke an emotional reaction that you will have to handle!

Say ‘I notice you don’t respond when any of the other team members talk to you, rather than ‘ I feel that you are sulking’.


Be clear about why the behaviour is unacceptable and that, ‘it means that the rest of the team can see..’ or ‘the patients are left wondering…’


Don’t demand changes, or tell your team member what to do. Instead allow them to work out what the answer is.

They will be fifty per cent more likely to put something into place if you let them work out the answer for themselves! ‘What can you do for me to sort this?’

Resolution may not be reached after the first conversation. You must remember the behavioural habits are often well ingrained and it is difficult to change a mind-set!

Allow a little time, encourage attitudes and behaviour that have been modified, and repeat the feedback as often as is necessary. Be kind, be gentle,be encouraging, be patient – the same old behaviours are easy and familiar; it takes strength, guts, determination and thought to change!

If you become too disparaging and too frustrated, your efforts will all be lost.

Do  keep the conversation focused and don’t be thrown off track with excuses and flippancies. When the conversation side-tracks,draw it back to the impact ‘But this is happening. We have to change it. I need your help to come up with a better way of doing it. What do you think?’


About the author: Sheila Scott is no plain business consultant – she’s got over 20 years experience being a coach to dentists and their teams, not to mention the whole host of qualifications she’s got under her belt, namely: psychology, marketing, counselling and training, more recently expanding on the list by completing a mediation course!

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