Oral Health Group

How to Thrive as The New Kid on The Block!

October 22, 2020
by Judy Kay Mausolf

Congratulations! You are a recent dental graduate who just got hired as the new associate to work with Dr. Wonderful and her team! It’s your first glorious day! You are ready to take on the world and deliver exceptional service and care. Oh, but wait a minute. There are these people you now must rely on…called your team! There was no mention of team relationships. No one told you in school that you were going to be dependent on a team. You were just planning on focusing on dentistry. Surprise! That’s not how it works. The success of a practice is largely based on how well you work together as a team. So how do you build happy, healthy, and high performing relationship with an existing team? Some of whom you may have not hired in the first place?

It is important to remember that you are the outsider coming into their world. It’s like being the new kid on the block. You must figure out how to fit in with the existing team culture. Fitting in takes time and patience. The team is going to check you out because they don’t know you or trust you. They will be watching your every move to see if you will fit in. The first step to fitting in is to focus on building confident trust with each team member.


The dictionary defines trust as instinctive unquestioning belief in and reliance upon something. The trust I am suggesting is not one of blind faith but instead one of confidence! Confident trust is based on consistency. Consistency of good reasons to trust based on significant past evidence and experiences.

Think of the people in your life that you confidently trust. Take a moment to reflect why you feel confident in trusting them.  Confident trust does not just happen overnight.  It takes time to nurture and grow.  However, breaking one’s trust can happen in a heartbeat.  The great news is that trust can be rebuilt.  It takes a sincere daily commitment to be transparent, consistent and realistic. An actionable and measurable process is to assess your every action, attitude, and conversation by checking off the following list.

  • Am I being transparent?
  • Am I being consistent?
  • Am I being realistic?
  • Am I doing what I said I would do when I said I would do it?

Some examples of behaviours that build confident trust are:

  • Be transparent by keeping the team in the loop
  • Be consistent with daily tasks
  • If you have a concern talk to the person
  • Help when you see help is needed
  • Ask for help when help is needed
  • Ask don’t assume
  • Take ownership – do what you say you will do when you say you will
  • Focus on the greater good instead of WIIFM (What’s in it for me)
  • Don’t gossip
  • Tell the truth and be compassionate
  • Don’t be late or absent for trivial reasons

The second step to fitting in is to learn the current systems and processes. Spend time talking with the doctor and each team member to learn why they do what they do. For at least the first 90 days immerse yourself in learning their ways instead of making suggestions. It will give you time to build trust while you learn. The team is often suspicious of the new doctor. They are afraid the new doctor is going to want to change everything. After all, you’re the new kid on the block…you should have to fit into their practice. Many team members may be older than you. Show them you respect their experience and expertise by being open to their guidance.

Once you start making suggestions, remember that the team may like to do things their way. Even if it may not be the most effective or efficient. It’s their routine and they can do it on auto pilot – which is why your suggestions may be resisted even if it is an improvement. New changes slow them down and take more focus and effort. Don’t firehose the team with suggestions or requests. Start with a simple change that will be easy to do and benefit them greatly. They will see it as a positive and be more open to the next change.

The third step to fitting in is balancing your role as an associate. You may feel like you are in the middle, torn between the owner doctor(s) and the team. You are doctor and a leader. Yet you don’t make the decisions. Some decisions you may be more aligned with the team than you are the owner doctor. The team may treat you like one of them and even tell you negative things about the owner doctor. The owner doctor may complain to you about their team. It is imperative that you not allow yourself to get stuck in the middle. Always reinforce what is positive about the other person. You may not always agree on every decision. However, it is imperative that you support the owner doctor decisions in attitude and actions, or you will undermine them. It is easy to judge when you have never walked in someone’s shoes. It always looks easier when you are observing. Leading a team and making the right decisions can be very difficult at times. There are often many paths that can be chosen.

The fourth step in fitting in is by avoiding gossip. Gossip is sharing anything that is negative or private about another person. Listening is gossiping if you are not in a position that allows you to resolve the issue. The listener plays a 50/50 role. Because it stops if the person complaining has no one to tell. I have found it works best to refer the person back to the source of concern to work it out instead of listening. Instead of listening, ask them if they have tried to talk to the other person. If they say no, ask them to do so and stop the conversation.

People who engage in workplace gossip often have a strong need to “fit in” and feel that gossip will help them achieve this. Gossipers often suffer from low self-esteem and think that talking negatively about others will make them look better. If we truly grasped the devastating fallout from gossip, we would no longer accept it as the norm for any culture!

Gossip affects:

  • Patient care and experience
  • Team communication, performance, and relationships
  • Practice performance
  • Morale
  • Trust
  • Respect

The fifth step to fitting is to be approachable. Do daily or weekly check-ins with your team and owner doctor. A simple question to ask, “Do you have any questions or suggestions for me?” Avoid becoming defensive even if you disagree or feel hurt. People will avoid defensive people. You have a role as an approachee (the receiver of information).

The approachee’s role is to start out by thanking the approacher (the person approaching) for respecting you enough to come to you. It is important to recognize that the approacher’s intent is good and to realize that it is not easy to approach someone.

Listen intently to hear. Make eye contact with the other person. Don’t take offense. Instead of defending, deflecting, or blaming someone else, consider how your actions or lack of actions affected the outcome. Be honest with your response.

Acknowledge you heard and understand them. Never assume. If you are unsure, ask questions until you clearly understand. If you are thinking, “I think they mean this…” ask more questions.
Don’t take it personally. If the concern pertains to the patients, the practice, or the team it is necessary to address. It can be difficult to hear when we are not meeting the standards or expectations.

However, it is necessary to address in order to create and sustain a happier, healthier and higher performing culture.

Take it seriously. It may not seem important or be a priority to you, but it is for the other person.

Control your emotions. If you are upset, don’t just walk off in anger or frustration. Instead, let them know that you need a little time to process the information they shared, and you will respond later and give them a specific time. Try to respond within 24 hours.

I like to utilize the L.E.A.R.N. acronym when being approached:

Listen intently to hear what they have to say
Empathize by acknowledging their emotions
Apologize for the situation
React by sharing what you will do
Notify those that need to be aware of the discussion and decision

Here is an example how you can use L.E.A.R.N. Your assistant is frustrated because she just started working with you and doesn’t understand what instruments you want and when. It makes her uncomfortable because she has been an assistant for years and this makes her feels inadequate. The conversation might sound like this:

“Thank you for respecting me enough to come to me with your concerns. I can understand how uncomfortable this must be to work with a new doctor. I am sorry that this is frustrating for you. We will take some time to discuss what instruments I need with the different treatments we offer. During the procedure I will ask for what I need. We need to learn how to work together and that takes time. So, let’s agree to have patience and support each other. I will make sure I speak with the other assistants about tray setups as well to keep us all on the same page. This will ensure that we all have a great day!”

Following these five steps will help you thrive as the new kid on the block!

About the Author

Judy Kay Mausolf is a speaker, author, and dental culture specialist with expertise in helping others get happier and more successful! She coaches dentists and their teams how to become better leaders, communicate effectively, work together better and deliver service with more focus and passion which result in cultivating a happier, healthier and higher performing culture. She is Past President of National Speakers Association (Minnesota Chapter), Director of Sponsoring Partners for the Speaking Consulting Network and a member of the National Speakers

To read more articles from the 2020 Student issue, please click here.

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