Home Practice ManagementManagementHuman Resources The Magic Lockbox and the wisdom it contained regarding conflict

The Magic Lockbox and the wisdom it contained regarding conflict

by Steven Katz

We are constantly faced with the challenge of overcoming conflict. Nothing was more evident of this during the past year than the terribly nasty election process.

The animosity between candidates set a very poor example for our children and it had a terrible effect on the adult population, as well.

It is reported that there were an incredible number of husbands and wives who would not sleep together because of hard feelings over political beliefs. And the most telling determination of how combative the process was can be demonstrated by the fact that there has never been as many “unlikes” on Facebook. Is that not the ultimate put down in today’s society?

Frequently, in our role as practice coaches, we are called on to solve conflicts and resolve turmoil in the practices we work with. We are faced with anger, misunderstanding, resentment and accusations. The combatants often blow the disagreement out of proportion, allowing their emotions to overwhelm their sensibility to the point that even complete resolution of the conflict leaves residual hard feelings.

When my wife and I were married, 38 years ago, one of the most curious gifts we received was from my wise Great-Aunt, Ruth. Aunt Ruth’s gift was a small lockbox. The instructions that accompanied it were that the box was not to be opened unless Regina and I found ourselves in the predicament of not being able to resolve a dispute.

Though Regina and I have had an incredible run of love and cooperation, there have been times when we disagreed. In the early days, it was arguing over who would do the dishes. Then there were differences of opinion in where we would live and whose family we would spend holidays with.

Later there were more globally significant conflicts over careers and parenting. However, we never once got even close to cracking open the lockbox, for fear that we would lose the opportunity to open it if and when we “really” needed it. We were reserving the possibility that it would be the cure-all for “THE” worst of arguments, whenever it arose.

Recently, Regina and I have come to realize how incredibly compatible we are. It has been years since we have had a serious argument and even minor disagreements are fewer and far between.

On our anniversary a few years ago, we decided, out of curiosity, to open the lockbox. We could not imagine what earth-shattering information made up its contents. As we opened it, we were shocked to find very little in the box. It contained two envelopes. The first was addressed to me and it contained an “I’m Sorry” card and a $50 bill paper clipped to the business card of a florist and instructions on how to order a dozen roses. The second envelope was addressed to Regina and it contained an “I’m Sorry” card and a list of phrases, including “I love you,” “I appreciate you,” and “I want to see how we can compromise.”

Brilliantly, Aunt Ruth had proven that the tools to overcome turmoil are not something that we can receive, but they are totally within all of us. We had found the resolve to settle many disagreements prior to opening the box. With slightly more resolve and determination, we all possess the ability to resolve even the most difficult conflicts. To do this we must:

1. Look beyond the person confronting you. The source of the problem is rarely an individual, but rather a challenge or a situation. Focus on these contributing factors instead of the person and try to understand why it is upsetting to each other.

2. Identify the source of the problem. Often it is not the situation, but a perspective on the situation that causes anger to fester and leads to exaggerated conflict. The ultimate source of the conflict may have been something minor that happened in the past, but its persistence led to greater frustration.

3. Request solutions. After understanding the “other” viewpoint, it is important to discover how “we can make things better between us.” As disputants stop fighting and begin to attempt cooperating, the discussion moves away from finger pointing and toward ways of resolving the conflict.

4. Look for common threads of agreement. Break down thoughts on the conflict to areas where you may be able to agree. It’s not all black or white. Embrace the grays and then find smaller parts of the issue that can be tolerated in compromise. If we remove some of the selfishness that we all have, sometimes looking at the issue from the practice’s perspective can lead to broader compromise.

5. Reembrace each other’s positive qualities. It’s not enough to just agree to agree. Reemphasize how each person matters to you personally and in the context of the practice. Apologize for emotions that surfaced spontaneously in the moment and commit to keeping the good of the practice and others in perspective.

6. Create your own lockbox. Create a lockbox for your practice that contains the first five steps in the instructions above, describing the lockbox as the last resort. May the specter of that lockbox give you the resolve and remind you of the commitment to wanting to resolve conflicts without creating turmoil.

Dr. Katz’s practice was destroyed by a series of life tragedies 18 years ago. He systematically rebuilt it to become a multi-milliondollar practice with an emphasis on relationships and customized care. Dr. Katz is a Master in the Academy of General Dentistry and a Fellow in the International College of Dentists.

He has been the Team Dentist for the New York Jets Football Team and a Dental Consultant to Channel 5 Fox News in New York. He was the owner of Smiles On Broadway Dental Care in Malverne, NY and the Founder of Smile Potential Dental Practice Coaching. He can be contacted by phone at 516-599-0214 or by email at drkatz@smilepotential.com, www.SmilePotential.com

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