Small Biz Advice: The Case of the Biting Dentist


Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly also heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books which will meet on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7pm to discuss J. Keith Murnighan’s Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader.
She also
teaches business classes at The Yard in Williamsburg. 

Got a question for Holly about running your small business? Email her and she’ll address it in her next column:

Dear Holly,

I am a dentist with a small practice here in Brooklyn. I recently had an experience where I received a complaint from a patient about an incident that occurred in my office. This patient was witness to a conversation that I had with my receptionist and deemed my behavior disrespectful. I admit that it was a poor choice on my behalf to scold my receptionist in front of patients, but I was under a lot of stress, and I regret my actions.

How do you recommend I fix this with both my employee and my patient?

Dental Downer

Dear Dental,

I’m sure we have all experienced something like this in our careers, whether we were the one who lashed out inappropriately, or we were on the receiving end of that public berating. Either way, it never feels good. We all make mistakes, and the best way to move forward is to own up to our mistakes and use them as a learning opportunity.

First, apologize to your receptionist. No one should be scolded in public. That’s a poor choice and shows a lack of leadership on your part. Apologize for your actions and acknowledge that you made a mistake. That’s the first step in being a better leader.

Second, now that the situation has passed, take a moment to explain why you were so upset. As a business owner, you must be able to clearly communicate why you feel someone was not meeting your expectations. If you don’t articulate that clearly, how will your employees learn what it is that you need from them? Great employee performance starts with clear communication.

Third, reassure the staff member that you are taking action to make sure this won’t happen again. Maybe it’s time for you to brush up on your own management skills and learn how to be a better leader. Learning is an ongoing process. Even though we are at the top of our own company, it doesn’t mean we can stop learning how to do better as leaders.

Fourth, call your patient or write them a letter and make a sincere apology for your actions. Like I said before, we all make mistakes; it’s how we handle our mistakes that really counts. Acknowledge what you are doing to make sure that this never happens again, and thank the patient for expressing their concern over the situation and bringing it to your attention.

Finally, do your best to be more conscious of your behavior. This is something we all need to do. You set the tone for your entire company. If you’re acting inappropriately, you can’t expect anything but the same from your staff. Take pause to reflect how your inappropriate behavior could be damaging your entire business. You are lucky that someone brought this to your attention. Don’t miss this opportunity to grow.

Best of luck!


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