How do you put out a burning well-head?

You know the imagery here – a fire at an oil well, flames leaping into the air and a gigantic cloud shrouding the surrounding land.
Rather similar to what happens when gossip breaks out in a business.
An example of which was presented to me the other day as a coaching assignment.
“A new nurse has been appointed at a slightly higher salary than her established colleagues.
We had to do that because market forces, supply/demand, means that to attract the right person we had to pay a little over the odds.
Our intention was to “restore differentials” later in the year – but just now we are reinvesting £250,000 into the practice and there is no spare cash to give everyone a pay rise.
The new girl didn’t know any better – she blabbed her salary in the staff room.
We don’t talk salaries here – never have done in 25 years.
It has caused a commotion – none of the girls are talking to me and you can cut the atmosphere with a knife.”
Ever heard that story?
The principal sat in a city hotel with me the other day, head in hands.
“What do I do?”
The answer is to consider how to put out a burning well-head – although I’m going to slightly modify my metaphor.
Option 1 – starve the fire of oxygen
1. Call a meeting;
2. explain that discussion of salaries is not allowed;
3. issue a contract amendment that confirms the fact;
4. tell them all to go back to work
5. and that you refuse to take part in the conversation – now or ever
6. and that if people don’t like that then they need to be looking for another job.
Option 2 – create a controlled explosion, the force of which is large enough to extinguish the original fire
1. call a meeting;
2. ask them to explain their greivances in a team environment;
3. leave them alone for an hour and request that when you return they have designed a solution which incorporates the continued well-being and expansion of the business;
4. walk out of the room and shut the door;
5. return in one hour to listen to their business planning ideas;
6. having listened carefully – default to Option 1.
My client decided that option 1 was his favoured choice.
The points being:
1. don’t wrestle with the pig;
2. don’t give oxygen to a situation you cannot tolerate;
3. never justify the decisions you make to a aggrieved party
4. nobody is indespensable – nobody.
The fire is out.


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.