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Dental hygienists must strive to avoid conflict in the workplace.

How to avoid conflict in "pressure cooker" dental offices

April 30, 2024
Dental hygienists must maintain dozens of relationships, all while avoiding conflict. Yep, this is as hard as it sounds. Here are tips to keep that smile on your face and the harsh words away.

Dental hygiene is a service-oriented profession that’s based on relationship building. First is the all-important relationship between the dental hygienist and the patient. Second is the relationship between the dental hygienist and their coworkers. Third is the relationship between the dental hygienist and the office manager. Finally, there is the relationship between the dental hygienist and the dentists.

Peripheral relationships with vendors, the doctor’s wife, and the families of patients may or may not play a role in your daily interactions. If you’re employed in a multi-hygienist office, you have even more relationships to add to the mix. Keeping all these plates in the air isn’t easy, and occasionally one plate gets dropped, hits the floor, and shatters into a million pieces.

Collaboration and teamwork in a dental office among health-care professionals ultimately leads to more positive patient outcomes, employee job satisfaction, and effective health services for patients. In a perfect world, this happens. But we don’t live in a perfect world. In dental hygiene, we must run on a tight schedule, keep all those relationships in good standing, and maintain our professionalism.

It could be argued that dental hygienists work in a demanding environment. Conflicts often occur in health institutions that have an intensive and rapid work cycle.1 So, while living in this pressure cooker situation, it’s no wonder conflict happens. Can we agree that conflict may be inevitable?

Conflict and how to avoid it

Conflict is “a situation in which people, groups, or countries participate in a serious disagreement or argument.”2 Conflict can arise due to interpersonal, individual, or organizational sources of conflict. With all these variables, what steps can you take to avoid conflict in the first place? “Many important factors are needed for all team members, such as communication, empathy, assertiveness, emotions and self-expression, motivation, use of effective conflict strategies, a sense of belonging to the team, and awareness of the importance of teamwork.”1

Empathy is no longer optional following the pandemic and the underutilized skill of active listening can work wonders.3 Active listening, described as the “secret sauce,” may bring a disagreement to an abrupt halt and the conflict may be averted.

Although the use of active listening sounds simple, it requires concentration. When someone is speaking to you, you need to listen intently. Oftentimes, we hear what another person is saying but we’re so focused on what we want to say in return, we do not truly listen. Perhaps we relate what the other person is saying to our experiences and immediately start a decision-making process in our mind. In other words, we shut down.

Perhaps we disengage from the conversation because our mind is already made up, and there’s no changing that assessment. Avoiding these obstacles can clear the way for a more open, honest dialogue between two individuals. This shared dialogue may prevent conflict at that moment.

If conflict is not resolved, the results can include psychological turmoil, stress, and emotional exhaustion in medical professionals.1 When faced with conflict, individuals demonstrate conflict management styles as specific behavioral patterns in one of five ways: avoiding, dominating, integrating, compromising, and obliging.4 The last two styles are viewed as the most constructive, so if you’re using the last two conflict management styles, kudos to you!

Do we not owe it to our patients, coworkers, office managers, and employers to communicate, collaborate, and simply try to get along? We all need to row in the same direction. A rising tide lifts all boats. Enjoy the success you achieve together!


1. Basogul C. Conflict management and teamwork in workplace from the perspective of nurses. Psychiatric Care. 2020;57:610-619.

2. Abbasi LS, Sajjad T, Jawed K, Akhtar A. Working in a collaborative practice: conflict management styles in professionals. J Pakistan Dent Assoc. 2022;31(3):131-135.

3. Sheedy C. Switch on a superpower. J Australian New Zealand Insti Ins Fin. 2022;(2):28-31.

4. Yusof N, Majid A, Hamid S. The mediating role of conflict management styles on the relationship between job characteristics and employee performance. Int J Bus Soci. 2023;24(2):817-831.

Margaret Vivoda, PhD, MBA, was employed as an RDH  for 26 years prior to transitioning into higher education. She has worked as a university administrator for approximately 10 years and is currently employed as a business professor for three universities. She is the owner of Inspired Coaching as a coach who assists individuals achieve their goals. Dr. Vivoda may be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Margaret Vivoda, PhD, MBA,

Margaret Vivoda, PhD, MBA, was an RDH for 26 years prior to transitioning into higher education. She has worked as a university administrator for approximately 10 years and is currently employed as a business professor for three universities. She is the owner of Inspired Coaching, and is a coach who helps individuals achieve their goals. Contact Margaret at [email protected].