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How to manage resistance to change in the dental practice

How to manage resistance to change in the dental practice

“CHANGE”. It’s that dirty word that many of us regard as a scary thing. It involves risk and uncertainty; therefore, it induces some level of stress or anxiety.

When it comes to implementing changes in the dental practice, it usually falls to either the Practice Manager or the Practice Owner to implement them and it is natural that you will encounter resistance – be it team members, other clinicians, or fellow dentists.

Regardless who it is stemming from and what the situation may be, resistance can create considerable stress in some practices.

Now, there is nothing wrong with resistance. In fact, it’s perfectly natural.

It’s just a different way of responding to it and for many people, change typically comes with grief or having to go out of their comfort zone. To some, it might be perceived as having to give up something that they already think works well.

How then, can we manage resistance to change in the practice?

To properly approach this, we must first identify a few factors:

  1. The amount of change required

  2. The level of importance of the person who is resisting change

  3. The importance of the change to the business owner

Let’s use a couple of different examples of change needed in a practice…

Scenario A : You want the team’s phone skills to be slightly improvedScenario B : You want the business hours of the practice to be extended to cater for another group of patients.

When you lead a team through change, you should be prepared for different reactions to the change you are introducing to the practice.

Some of your team members will thrive from the change and be your best ambassadors for both of the above examples. On the other hand, there will be team members who might feel threatened by the change and they will resist it, as they may feel it demeans the way they have been doing things until now.

As a leader, you need to understand that people react differently to the change and there is nothing worse than feeling pushed into something you are not ready for, or disagree with.

Here’s a few tips to overcome and manage the resistance:

  1. Show that you understand their reactions and let them know it’s alright.

  2. Sometimes, even you don’t have all the answers, but it’s better to communicate than keeping your team in the dark right up to the time for implementation.

  3. Remember that you, as a practice manager, are more informed than the team. Take it easy and don’t push too much. Once they are on the same page in your change journey, it will be easier to get them onboard. In Scenario A above, they may think there is no problem with the current situation and can’t see a reason for change. In Scenario B above, they may think it will be inconvenient for them as it will affect their lifestyle, family, or other commitments.

  4. Help them to understand the “pain” of not changing and let them articulate what would happen, in the worst case, if you don’t change. So, in Scenario A, your team may need a reason to understand why there is a problem with how they are answering the phones, and thus not understand the impact of a lost call. Explain constructively – for example, the lack of consistency, or perhaps, the tone of communication coming across as being rushed or how information is not clearly explained over the phone is not helpful to patients. Whatever it may be, there must have been a reason why you are wanting to enforce a change to the phone skills. By explaining it to them and also making them understand the value of a lost call, you are allowing them to see the impact and the reasons for change. In Scenario B, the team may not be aware of the business necessities to cater with extended hours to patients before or after work hours. In some cases, it might be a critical business decision for the practice, as it could mean that the practice direly needs to get extra patient appointments in order to keep afloat. Whatever it may be, shedding some light and explaining the reasons or benefits for such a business decision can help communicate why the change is important. They also may not have considered the positive benefits for their personal lives; i.e. to start later in the day or finish earlier in the day. It would enable them to be more available for children, leisure, or other extra-curricular activities.

  5. People tend to focus more on loss than gain. Get the team to articulate what the wins could be with the respect to Scenario A – explain the cost of a lost patient, and what it would mean if we kept say, one more of those per two days, or per five days. With regards to Scenario B – describe the long-term goals and what that could look like for the practice if it were to remain open, say 12 hours a day. How much more viable would the practice be? What could you do if you had, say a morning off two days a week as compensation for the extra hours in the evening?

  6. It is imperative to acknowledge successes and encourage the team spirit when you do see the team putting in the effort, as this will motivate everyone to continue their efforts.


Ultimately, on occasions, if the issue or change is sufficiently important to you and your practice – resistance or not, you will have to break through it and communicate it across the team…

This is the direction that the practice is moving towards. I would definitely like you to still be here after we have made the change, but it is not negotiable; as this is a business decision and the practice will be implementing this course of action.”

Sometimes, they need to know that you are serious and that this mooted change is inevitable.


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