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The Best Way to Handle Office Manager Drama

I have said many times that the most important member of the dental office team isn’t the dentist or any staff member—it’s the patient. I still stand by that statement, because the patient always comes first.

Without patients, there can be no dentistry. But, the unavoidable fact is all the paid team members in a dental office play important roles in making the office go smoothly, and some team members play such key roles that they can wreak havoc on the entire office if things get out of hand.

If I were forced to pick one member of the dental team who oftentimes can make or break an office’s long-term success, without hesitation I would say it’s the office manager.

Recently, I spoke with someone who has been training a team member to become the new office manager. Obviously, this person was picked for training in such an important position because they seemed like a good fit in terms of skill and experience.

Then, things suddenly went downhill when the trainee, who was being trusted with a lot of day-to-day duties in the office, made an unfortunate decision related to interviewing someone for an open position in the office. The outcome of that decision had to be dealt with and cleaned up by the practice owner.

It is important to point out that the problem wasn’t that the manager-in-training made a big mistake.

We all mess up sometimes, especially when we are new in a position. The real problem was what happened next…When the practice owner confronted the trainee about the interview situation, the trainee reacted very dramatically by raising their voice and refusing to acknowledge they had acted unacceptably, causing a scene in front of the entire staff.

This reaction was beyond unprofessional, and now the practice owner had yet another mess to clean up in addressing with the staff what had happened right in front of them.

Unfortunately, although the specific details may change from office to office, this story is not at all uncommon. As I travel around the country meeting with dentists and practice owners, I hear a lot of stories about tricky situations where the dentist or owner just did not know how to handle a situation with a problematic office manager. I am known for giving straightforward answers to questions like these.

Here is the advice I give in these situations.

It’s always important to think long and hard about which individuals you are willing to promote (or hire) to train for an office manager position.

In the scenario described above, it sounds to me like the person being trained to become the office manager does not handle pressure very well, which might make them a poor candidate for the job.

There is a lot of stress in a dental office and things are not always going to go well, so the office manager needs to be someone who can keep calm and collected when a crisis happens. The individual in this story responded irrationally and inappropriately to legitimate criticism.

Next, a good office manager must be able to accept constructive criticism from the dentist or practice owner and transform the feedback into a problem-solving approach to improve the situation.

Part of accepting criticism is to be able to do it without getting upset or angry about being confronted. Managers must be able to focus on the wellbeing of the office more than their own personal feelings. It goes without saying (but clearly this is sometimes an issue) that a person in the office manager role should never behave in such a way that they are being verbally abusive or hostile.

The office manager sets the tone of the office culture and has to be able to model appropriate professional behavior for others. It is vital for your office manager to understand the expectations of that role and to be able to hear it from you calmly when there is a problem with their performance. Strong office managers want to get better all the time and will welcome feedback from you.

Finally, it is not enough to just let your office manager know when they have made a mistake.

The key to avoiding office manager drama is to provide thorough job training so they can avoid big mistakes in the first place and can completely understand the weight of their role as manager. It is not just important for new hires. It may be the person who is being promoted to office manager from some other role in the office who needs the most training. It needs to be very clear what the position entails and exactly how they are expected to carry out the job duties.

In the scenario described above, the person being promoted to office manager was probably being asked to handle more than they were ready for.

Decisions related to hiring, including screening candidates for interviews, are best left to the practice owner or to someone who has been thoroughly trained on how this process works.

Although the individual who made the mistake regarding interviews should not have acted unprofessionally when confronted about it, it’s not very difficult to understand why they reacted in such an over-the-top manner if they were being criticized for mishandling something that they weren’t trained to handle in the first place.

This situation of training someone in the office to be promoted to manager is where a detailed training program like Front Office Rocks can be so useful. When you take the time to provide thorough and excellent training for your new office manager, you will be doing the entire office a favor by building the foundation for a manager who will be able to deal with all the issues a dental office faces without resorting to drama. That will allow you to do the best job of serving your most important team members…your patients.

If your team is struggling with dental office drama, Front Office Rocks has resources to help!

Watch the video replay of How to Address Dental Practice Staff Drama Training Webinar and visit these related links:

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.