The Power of Positive Confrontation by Jay Geier

The Power of Positive Confrontation 

by Jay Geier

Your livelihood is made by interacting with other people. No matter how good your clinical skills, the success of your practice is heavily determined by your people skills with your team, your patients and everyone with whom you interact in the community. These interactions influence your reputation, so the more you understand about human behavior, the better.

Human nature dictates that interactions between you and your employees, patients, family members and friends at times involve some level of conflict. Whether there’s just two people in the room or many, when there’s disagreement—spoken or unspoken—a potential confrontation becomes the proverbial elephant in the room. It becomes a constant source of distraction and tension, keeps you and your people from working together as a high-performing team, and wreaks havoc on marriages and families.

Confrontation has a negative connotation. Most people prefer to avoid it, opting instead to allow undesirable behaviors to continue and negative consequences to be repeated. Rather than address and work together to overcome the reason for conflict, most people find it far less uncomfortable to accept the constant tension that goes with these unaddressed issues.

But does confrontation have to be a bad thing? That depends on the definition you use and how you handle it. The definition that usually comes to mind is along the lines of “an open conflict of opposing ideas or forces,” and evokes thoughts of a battle, dispute, showdown or stressful encounter. Yet, the word actually has more positive than negative definitions:
  • A face-to-face meeting of persons.
  • A bringing together of ideas or themes for comparison.
  • And my personal favorite, a technique used in group therapy (as in encounter groups), in which one is forced to recognize one’s shortcomings and their possible consequences.
Reframe how you think about confrontation. Instead of a stressful conflict, think of it as a technique for constructively pointing out someone’s behavior and the related consequences. Instead of making them feel they are doing something wrong, explain the better way and the better outcomes associated with it. In many cases, the negative consequences are unrecognized and unintended, so bringing a situation to someone’s attention can lead to behavior change more easily than you might think.

A valuable life skill
If you want any part of your personal or professional life to improve, you must make changes that lead to better outcomes. Developing the skill to effectively confront people and issues will positively affect every facet of your life. In fact, we coach clients to build that skill in this order:

1. Learn to confront yourself.
If you can’t recognize your own shortcomings, the likelihood of getting others to recognize and accept the truth about themselves and change their behaviors is nil. As the leader of your business and as a family member, you must act with integrity. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a double standard that will limit your ability to effectively confront issues and mold behavior change in others.

Look in the mirror and be honest about your own imperfect behaviors and shortcomings, which may just be a lack of knowledge and skill in an area. Don’t make excuses, rationalize or blame others or circumstances. This can be difficult for anyone, which is why a good coaching process is important; a great coach will keep you focused on forward progress and ensure accountability for the necessary changes in your thinking and behaviors so you can effectively lead others to do the same.

2. Learn to confront family members.
Confronting a need for change with your family and friends may seem harder than doing so with employees and patients, because emotions often play a larger role in intimate relationships. However, the stressors in your personal life drain your capacity to effectively confront the people and issues in your professional life. That’s why we coach clients to get themselves and their homes in order before focusing on their offices.

3. Learn to confront your employees.

Employees rarely do things wrong intentionally; after all, they depend on their jobs. Most of the time, people don’t know they’re doing something incorrectly or that there’s a better way. That’s not a shortcoming; it’s a lack of awareness, training and understanding the consequences.

Done right, you’re not being combative by bringing an issue to their attention— you’re training them on a better way. Good people and those with potential accept and want feedback and constructive criticism so they have the opportunity to improve. Use this as a technique to find out who your best employees really are.

The alternative is to let undesirable behaviors continue so long they become habits, which are harder to change. The negative consequences will likely worsen through repetition, which often leads to confrontation in its worst form because you wait until you’re exasperated. Or something goes terribly wrong and seriously harms the business so the issue can no longer be ignored. This will likely make you lose your temper rather than being an effective leader. All of this can be prevented if you constructively and proactively confront issues.

4. Learn to confront your patients.
You and your entire team need to reframe your thinking about confrontation as a positive influence with patients, not a negative encounter. You, your hygienists, treatment coordinators, financial coordinators and schedulers should all learn to interact with patients in a way that achieves the best care for the patient while also achieving practice goals. Constructively point out behaviors and consequences in terms that benefit the patient during case presentations, financial conversations and scheduling calls.

Trust but verify
Confronting an issue doesn’t mean it’s fixed! Put processes in place so people understand why the changes are necessary and so you can verify whether the desired behavior changes are sticking, negative consequences are being eliminated and results are improving.

  • Have measurable goals that are clear, written and well-communicated; gain mutual commitment.
  • Build accountability systems to drive sustained behavior change. Don’t assume the changes will continue long-term without periodic reinforcement. Training is the best example; don’t assume if the team was trained once several years ago that they are still doing all they were taught in the right ways. Regular refresher training is essential.
  • Establish measurement systems that track progress toward goals so everyone sees what you’re doing is effective.
Establishing these systems helps you prevent and resolve emerging issues that would otherwise need to be confronted later on when the negative consequences have a greater impact.

Rest and recovery
Learning to effectively and properly confront yourself, confront the people in your life, and work through difficult issues affecting your life and business takes mental and emotional energy. That’s hard to come by when you’re tired, worn out and stressed.

We know from working with clients that most doctors take few truly restful and rejuvenating days off. They may be at the office only four days a week, but spend the other three days working at home, stressing over business matters, or doing yardwork or house chores. That’s not restful. Although going on a family vacation may be fun, it can be exhausting—especially if children are involved. That’s not restful. And destructive escapism such as drinking, smoking and being an internet addict are anything but rejuvenating.

The more stressed you are about your business, the more you will feel pressured to work because you don’t think you can afford to take time off. Being worn out hinders your ability to work through problems, make good decisions and take effective actions that improve the business so you can take time off and rest. You won’t be able to recognize your own shortcomings and those of others that are causing problems. You certainly won’t have the energy to confront and solve the issues that have you thinking you can’t possibly step away from it all for rest you desperately need.

We coach clients to break this vicious cycle by establishing a rest and recovery process that leads to real rejuvenation. We encourage scheduled time off and vacations that are truly restful; incorporating healthier lifestyle habits that include proper exercise, diet, and mental, emotional or spiritual renewal; and intentional quality time with loved ones.

The gift of confrontation

A patient will rarely tell you that someone on your team is lousy or that their experience was disappointing. Like most people, they will avoid confrontation and just stop coming, stop referring others or maybe criticize your practice on social media. By not confronting you, they deprive you of a gift: the truth you need to hear and face up to. Your practice suffers the negative consequences of behaviors you’re blind to and unable to correct.

Change how you think about confrontation. Recognize it as a powerful technique for driving positive outcomes by confronting the truth so you can understand and accept reality. Use confrontation to change behaviors in yourself and others that cause negative consequences. Never forget that others’ perceptions of you, your team, and your practice are real and impactful, whether you agree with them or not. In lieu of group therapy, consider a one-on-one coaching relationship that will ensure reality matches the perceptions you desire for yourself, your team, and your business.

Author Bio
Author Jay Geier is a world authority on growing independent practices to keep for a lifetime of revenue or sell for maximum value. He is the founder and CEO of Scheduling Institute, a firm specializing in team training and doctor coaching to help people live up to their full potential by uncovering blind spots that hold them back and limit their growth and profitability. To hear more from Geier, subscribe to his "Private Practice Playbook" podcast at
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