Disputes in any type of work or business can be common, and dental practices are no different. Due to the nature of dentistry, disputes generally fall into two categories: interpersonal and/or commercial disputes. Interpersonal disputes often arise in dental practices due to the close-knit working environment and because longstanding members of staff have become accustomed to a certain way of working together. Sometimes it can take the arrival of a new member of staff to rock the boat or a change in management to cause conflict between staff or between staff and management.
Conflicts can also arise between business partners who may disagree on how best to run the practice and as a result of this, they’re no longer able to communicate effectively – to the detriment of the practice.
The problem with interpersonal disputes are that they can cause a considerable amount of stress, especially in a small practice. The team may become divided, the atmosphere tense and matters can escalate rapidly resulting in outbursts or upset amongst staff. It can also lead to increased sick leave due to members of staff feeling bullied or isolated.
Due to the personal nature of these types of disputes, they can be difficult to resolve. Commonly practices will try to get staff together to talk about their problems or a member of staff may raise a grievance or be disciplined for their behaviour. These approaches can often make matters worse because the root cause of the issue is not addressed and resolved.
Partners who are in dispute may try to get staff onside which can divide the practice and cause friction between loyal members of staff and management. Commercial disputes on the other hand generally arise when there’s a disagreement about money.The most common type of commercial disputes in dental practices are between partners or between practice owners and associates.
It may be that one partner is not performing well so the other partner wants them to sell their share of the practice or it could be that an associate is leaving, and the practice owner wants to withhold money for various reasons. Any contractual dispute between an associate and practice owner would be considered a commercial dispute.
Commercial disputes usually result in one party taking legal action against the other which means they can be very costly and time consuming to resolve, as well as very stressful. An alternative and lesser known form of dispute resolution for both interpersonal and commercial disputes is mediation.
Mediation is considered a win/win solution for both parties because both parties work together to resolve their issues (even if they’re unwilling to sit in the same room together!). With other forms of dispute resolution such as arbitration and litigation, an independent party assesses the facts and makes a final decision for each party. With mediation, an agreement reached is based on both parties working together.
Mediation is also a voluntary process, so its success is dependent on both parties being willing to resolve their disputes (usually to avoid the alternative which is costly legal action). With mediation, there are no legal fees to be paid and no awarding of costs (you won’t be liable to pay for the other sides legal fees and vice versa). All BDA members can access the BDA mediation service free of charge.
The mediation process itself is simple and only requires both parties to attend a one-day mediation meeting which is usually held at the BDA offices in Wimpole Street. Prior to the mediation, both parties exchange a ‘position statement’ outlining their issues and the resolution they are seeking.
During the mediation itself, two certified Mediators will meet with each party individually to gain a full understanding of their concerns and the resolution they are seeking. The mediators will then facilitate a discussion between parties to help each party achieve their desired outcome, by working together. The idea is to look ahead rather than focus on what has happened.
A joint facilitated meeting is encouraged for interpersonal disputes but both commercial and interpersonal disputes can be resolved via the ‘shuttle’ process. Where the mediators will shuttle between both parties until an agreement is reached.
The benefit of mediation is that any issues can be aired in a safe and controlled environment. The skilled Mediators ensure that both parties are not only able to express their views and concerns without fear but that they are also heard by the other party. For interpersonal disputes especially, this is crucial.
As mediation is a voluntary process, if at any point either party feels the process is not working for them, they are free to end the meeting without any repercussion. Likewise, if the Mediators feel that the parties are unwilling to move from their positions, they too can terminate the process.
If an agreement is reached, a mediation agreement is drafted on the day and signed by both parties.
The Practice Support Team has successfully mediated over dozens of disputes over the years saving members tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees. They have also saved many a partnership and relationships between staff. Contact the BDA at advice. email@example.com for more information about our mediation services.