A Balanced Life

Sept. 1, 2000
With the help of a personal lifestyle coach, a hygienist rises above office politics and clarifies her own values in the process.

With the help of a personal lifestyle coach, a hygienist rises above office politics and clarifies her own values in the process.

Dianne Arguelles, RDH, CPCC,

as told to

Pat Caminiti

The nature of a dental hygienist`s job is somewhat nomadic. Most of us work in more than one dentist`s office on a part-time basis. We normally don`t "own" a space; we have little say in office policies; and we don`t have time to socialize with the staff on a regular basis.

As a result of all of this, we often find ourselves adapting to different office cultures. One office might have a bright and cheery atmosphere with a friendly dentist and staff; another may be cool, quiet, and distant. In most cases, the transition from one type of office to another is workable, but every now and then we come across an office personality that is so uncomfortable to us that it hinders our ability to maintain a positive working relationship and attitude.

As a 27-year veteran hygienist and a certified personal and lifestyle coach, I specialize in the needs of dental hygienists. The personality that each office possesses is a frequent topic of discussion with my clients.

This case study is about "Marsha," a dental hygienist who worked in an uncomfortable office environment that left her feeling physically ill. You will learn how she identified the problem, how she worked through the problem, what she learned about herself, and how she resolved the problem.

Marsha`s story

Marsha came to me for coaching because she was feeling out of control in her life and unhappy in her job. For 15 years, she had enjoyed the success her career had brought her and was proud of her association with the profession. Lately, however, she was feeling unhappy, frustrated, and beginning to have second thoughts about her career choice.

Six months prior to coming to me, Marsha started working for a new dentist, "Dr. Threat." Although the office personnel did not seem friendly, she wasn`t too concerned. She was working in two other offices with a high level of enjoyment, and she knew that sometimes people just needed time to "warm up."

As time went on, however, Marsha found the office environment oppressive. She observed that Dr. Threat was distant and sometimes unapproachable. He often seemed arrogant and not interested in Marsha`s suggestions. His major focus was cosmetic dentistry, and he devoted little time to talking to his patients about the importance of periodontal care. She believed that he was more impressed with his patients` social stature and selling cosmetic dentistry than their general oral health. Marsha felt that his emotional distance - and seeming lack of respect for her and her job - was undermining and diluting the value of her position.

Another major concern was the doctor`s assistant, "Jessie." According to Marsha, Jessie is young, flirtatious, and sassy. Dr. Threat enjoys Jessie`s feisty attitude, and he lets her slide on office policy. Because Jessie is rarely reprimanded, she maintains the pseudo leadership in the office. Jessie views Marsha as a threat and is openly disrespectful to her.

She embarrasses her in front of patients and undermines her authority by ignoring Marsha`s needs and requests. Consequently, Marsha feels disempowered because she receives no support from the doctor.

Every time Marsha signaled the doctor for a hygiene patient check, she began to experience symptoms of discomfort, such as knots in her stomach, a tightening in her chest, and heavy shoulders. She realized something had to change. To Marsha, quitting was not an option because she looked upon it as a failure on her part. So, she made several attempts to talk to Dr. Threat and Jessie about her concerns. In return, she received a condescending attitude from the doctor and more contempt from Jessie.

Coaching assessment

I use the Co-active Coaching method, taught by the Coaches Training Institute, because I find it most beneficial to clients. As a Co-active coach, I do not give clients the answers to a "happier and more fulfilled life." The answers are unique to each individual and are already within each person. My job is to help each client find his or her own way.

The essential groundwork in my coaching practice starts with a two-hour intake session. I use a series of questions to assess where a client is and where that client wants to be. Then, our half-hour working sessions are conducted over the telephone weekly, at preappointed times. This is more convenient for my clients, and it allows me to help people in any geographical area.

During the intake session, I examine the balance in the various areas that make up a client`s lifestyle. I call it the "Wheel of Life," because it`s represented by a wheel with eight spokes, with each spoke representing a different area of a client`s life. These eight areas are:

> Career

> Money

> Health

> Friends and family

> Significant other/romance

> Personal growth

> Fun and recreation

> Physical environment

Ideally, all of the spokes of the wheel would be rated a 10 for the highest level of fulfillment in each area.

After each segment is rated, we clarify the value system - or the important issues in that person`s life - to see if those values are being honored and where they are not being honored. I use the Wheel of Life as a reference point, so clients can work toward the kind of balance they want in their lives.

Marsha is a warm, open woman who is willing to examine herself honestly. Through the Wheel of Life exercise, she discovered that the career portion of her wheel was dramatically out of balance with the rest of her life. The time and energy she did have left was consumed with taking care of (and not necessarily enjoying) her children and sleeping. She was losing touch with her friends, not taking time for exercise and recreation, and not allowing quiet time for herself.

Discovering what`s important

Marsha has a rich value system. Integrity is at the top of her list, followed by nurturing and loyalty. Other values that are important to her in relationships are openness, authenticity, humor, and teamwork.

She quickly saw that the reason she was so successful and enjoyed her career was because she honored her values in that portion of her life. She cared about her patients, and it was important for her to do the best job possible for each one. Patients and doctors respected her for that. Earning and receiving that respect were very important to her.

Upon further evaluation, Marsha realized that she always had gravitated toward work for fulfillment and self-worth. It was the one place she could go where she knew she was doing a good job and people appreciated her for her efforts.

With the benefit of coaching, Marsha learned that she was allowing Dr. Threat`s distant behavior and Jessie`s malicious attitude to chip away at her confidence. The workplace was one area of her life where she felt she was valued, and the seeming lack of respect by her co-workers was leaving her unsettled. Because she was so out of balance in the career portion of her life, she had no where else to draw strength; thus, she was unfulfilled in all areas of her life.

Once Marsha was able to identify that Dr. Threat and Jessie`s behavior had nothing to do with her abilities as a hygienist, her confidence quickly returned. She performed her job with refreshed enthusiasm and began concentrating on her patients. She chose to rise above her co-worker`s negative attitudes. Before long, Dr. Threat and Jessie began to respond to her with a higher regard, improving their relationship.

Marsha`s final decision

Would it surprise you to know that Marsha did end up leaving Dr. Threat`s practice? Marsha`s confidence was intact; however, she was still tolerating behavior with which she was uncomfortable. Upon closer evaluation of what was important to her - i.e., nurturing, openness, being authentic, team spirit, etc. - she realized she was spending a lot of time with people who didn`t share her values. It became clear to her that in continuing to work in this type of atmosphere she was not honoring her own values.

Experience has taught me that when most people truly know what their values are, they understand themselves at a deeper level, as well as how they relate to others. If there is a struggle within a relationship, it usually indicates that there are different value systems operating.

Instead of going to work for a new dentist, Marsha decided to increase the number of hours she was working with the other two dentists who were already employing her services. This adjustment allowed her to have one full day to herself. She could use that day for quiet time and to renew her energy so that she was more balanced in the other areas of her life. She wanted to nurture and enjoy her children. With her increased awareness of her own needs, she also wanted to play more, increase her exercise level, expand her interests, and spend time with people who share her value system.

In one of our last sessions, Marsha thanked me for helping her "peel the onion" one layer at a time so that she could identify what was important in her life. She remarked that this gives her the knowledge to enter relationships with more clarity and options. She also felt empowered to turn away from unhealthy situations in other areas of her life.

Dianne Arguelles, RDH, CPCC, is the owner of New Heights Personal Coaching in Santa Barbara, Calif. After 27 years as a practicing hygienist and nine years as a dental hygiene consultant, she retired to attain her certification in professional personal coaching from the Coaches Training Institute. She works with clients one-on-one and with dental teams across the US. She is accredited with the International Coach Federation as a professional certified coach. Call her for a complimentary coaching session at (805) 692-9656 or e-mail her at [email protected].