Mindfulness provides a much needed opportunity to take back our lives from the clutter of noise and distraction that competes for space in our consciousness every moment of our busy lives — most of which are spent at work or thinking about work or recovering from the effects of work. In today’s busy world, our dental practice can be a source of daily joy and pleasure or a source of stress and frustration, based on how we allocate our mental attention while we do what we do.
In order to fully appreciate the benefits of “mindfulness” on our practice and lives, we must first understand what causes us to diffuse our focus and attention. As a society, we live in an age of dramatic distraction. With one patient on hold, we rush to serve two others who are standing in line at the front desk and quickly reply to an email in between. Or in the middle of a challenging clinical procedure, we receive a message telling us we must break away yet again for another hygiene exam. Or while turning over treatment rooms to set up for the next patient, we find ourselves being pulled into a spare room to take an impression or assess an emergency. Unfortunately, this demand for our attention does not end at the dental office. It follows us home. Technology has made it easier than ever to fracture our attention into smaller and smaller bits, thereby programming our minds to be permanently distracted. We answer a co-worker’s question from the stands at a child’s football game; we pay bills while watching TV; we order groceries while stuck in traffic. In an era where no one seems to have enough time, our busy world is driven by technology and devices, allowing us to be many places at once but unable to fully inhabit the place we need to be at any given time.
Too many of us are overscheduled, over tasked, over connected, and overstimulated by all the noise, interruptions, and complexity of our high-paced society. When I begin working with a practice, people will often complain they feel busy and rushed, often reporting they feel stressed and stretched and pulled in different directions. So what can we do about this? Is the answer more time management training or more systems for better task management? Of course these can help but they only address half the problem. They are external strategies that don’t factor in one key variable: YOU! Time management is actually self-management or You Management. You Management means focusing on what you think and feel while you do what you do. Growing a more mindful work environment means managing your thoughts to be more fully engaged in the moment — with whatever it is you are doing and whomever it is you are doing it with.
Cultivating mindfulness into your practice is an exciting opportunity that every dental professional should embrace. We are in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health, happiness, and success in any field of human endeavor. Including dentistry! A fringe movement in our busy society is now an increasingly prominent part of our cultural landscape. A growing body of evidence suggests mindfulness has clear benefits. Though meditation is considered an essential means to achieving mindfulness, the ultimate goal is simply to give your attention fully to what you are doing at any given time. One can engage in a relationship mindfully, parent mindfully, vacation mindfully, and work more mindfully. Similarly one can practice clinical dentistry more mindfully and serve health care consumers more mindfully.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, first adapted mindfulness practice for health promotion in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) has been scientifically validated, accepted worldwide, and used in many disciplines, including medical and nursing education. Mindfulness is a state of being “that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience, moment by moment,” according to Dr. Kabat-Zinn.
High achievers, great artists, top scientists, and leading medical professionals all run their days under completely different mindsets and rituals than those who get trapped in the groove of “being busy being busy.” Across industries there is an elite subculture of accomplished professionals who are discovering the power of mindfulness. They are becoming more creative, more effective, and more focused and becoming better at their jobs.
Imagine feeling calm, focused, and creative while in the midst of challenge or busyness in your practice. Some dental schools have even incorporated exposure to the concept into their curriculum. Your best clinical dentistry — that looks good, functions well, feels comfortable, and lasts a long time — is delivered in an unrushed atmosphere where you feel fully focused, undistracted, and engaged.
Tips for strengthening your “Mindfulness Muscle” and cultivating it into your practice include:
Pick a situation in which you wish to immerse yourself “more mindfully” five times per day.
Begin observing your mind by focusing fully on that interaction or activity.
Slow down, take a breath, feel engaged, calm your movements, make eye contact, be there fully.
Notice the distraction without getting caught up in it, as your mind wanders as it inevitably will.
Bring your attention back to the moment and feel the experience of giving yourself entirely to that moment.
Focus deeply on the situation and/or persons involved, while creativity emerges.
Practice silencing your internal voice to make room for others in your mind, when communicating.
Use “deep listening” to receive or acknowledge feelings and messages. Feel curious and empathetic.
Notice your mind wandering again as it often will; bring your attention back to the moment again.
Enjoy the full flavor/taste of what you are doing, who you’re doing it with, and the people you serve.
Energy flows where attention goes! No matter what role you play in your practice, mindfulness allows dental professionals to connect more engagingly and to communicate more inspiringly with their patients who also happen to be health care consumers. Mindfulness is the art and science of finding focus and peace in a stressed out, multitasking, workplace culture. That’s when the magic happens. It means focusing on being fully in the moment and engaged with what you are doing and who you are doing it with, savoring the richness and full flavor of every second of that experience. A more mindfully present team will stimulate an expansion in the level of fulfillment people draw from being in your practice. It will also cultivate richer, more meaningful patient experiences by engaging customers in an inherently personal way that sets you apart and brands your practice as unique.
Practicing more mindfully is a wonderful way to strengthen the positive image and impact your practice can have on the community you serve. Remember the old adage: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift; that’s why they call it the PRESENT. Give yourself and your patients the gift or your full attention in the present moment and everyone grows, including your practice. Happy dentistry!
Why do some dental teams have all the fun? Why do some practices always seem to advance and be “in the zone” while others feel stagnant and stuck? Why is it some offices work twice as hard and twice as long as others only to find themselves achieving the same results? The answer lies in how well they come together to play the game of dentistry.
Great dental teams surround themselves with people who share passionately in a common set of ideals and values. They grow a culture of Shared Leadership, which means each member of the team is seeing, thinking, and acting towards a common, bigger outcome. Everyone shows up to play the game of dentistry as though the business were their own. Everyone plays with an attitude that sings to others, “It’s not about me; it’s about us.” Everyone is mindful of every patient who walks through the front door as well as of the unique challenges and needs of all other positions/roles on the team. Most importantly, no one is focusing solely on his or her own compartmentalized area of responsibility. Just imagine a practice where we are all constantly thinking and acting this way. That’s when the magic happens. That’s when the chemistry of a champion leadership team is born.
When I talk about “shared leadership” in seminars and workshops, I see many people nodding their heads, but often in a desperate sort of way. They seem to grasp these concepts in theory while simultaneously surrendering to the impossibility of actually making it happen within their own practices. The fact is we don’t need the title of “leader” to exhibit leadership behavior. I have found the ultimate key to success in dentistry — above clinical skills, finance, technology, systems, or office manuals — is our strategic ability to come together as one functional unit to play as leaders on our team. Although core levels of these other competencies are important, it is our ability to grow leadership-minded players around us that remains our ultimate competitive advantage. There is a difference between a group of highly skilled individuals versus a group of people who are playing a team game. Different results show up around a group of people who are truly playing together as a team.
group of people who are truly playing together as a team. Turning co-workers into team-oriented leaders is not that difficult to do. In fact, if we go deep, it’s what people really want. That’s what we all need in order to feel more fulfilled and empowered to succeed. Employees will be most excited and committed to their workplace when they have a voice in the direction of the organization and when they feel invited and challenged to contribute their ideas. Championship teams are provided a platform on which to exercise their strengths and creativity. I’m not talking about having too many chiefs. I’m talking about having people who are focused on the goals of the organization while they play in their positions or areas of responsibility. This is why taking time out of your business to work on your business is so important.
Well-run team meetings are the key to growing involved leaders and creating whatever we want in our practices. Meetings achieve much more than just an action plan for solving problems. They also serve to increase each individual team member’s ownership and commitment to the growth of the office. Meetings get people involved. They unleash the creative powers and collective wisdom of your people. When run properly they can fuel an atmosphere of camaraderie, which can transform a group of highly skilled individuals into a performing team with which we all desire to play!
If meetings are so important, then why do so many practices avoid them? I think there are two interconnected reasons. Firstly, many production-minded practices don’t want to give up valuable billing time to sit in one room and talk about the same things over and over again without seeing permanent change and follow-through. The second reason is that most meetings are not organized or set up to succeed. This causes them to digress into gripe sessions that have very little positive impact on the growth of the business. Poorly run meetings can actually stifle passion, stop progress, and often serve to destabilize group relations. Eventually they begin to be seen as ineffective and are avoided and resented by the group.
We must walk away from each team meeting with a deeper sense of our circumstances and opportunities and with a clear set of strategies for moving in the direction of our goals. Meetings should draw from the collective wisdom of the group and allow all team members to be an integral part of running the business. Regardless of what role you play in the practice, everyone’s perspectives and ideas are powerful ingredients for planning the growth and development of the business. I have seen dental teams walk out of well-run team meetings with ideas and strategies that none of them would have ever been able to come up with individually. As the old saying goes, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
Over the years I have compiled a list of the most common things that seem to consistently destroy productive meetings. Has your team ever allowed these to happen in your office?
Not starting on time. Not enough time scheduled.
Whole team not present.
Lack of a clear pre-planned agenda.
Interruptions and distractions during meetings (phones, lunch, patients).
Lack of creative, passionate, engaged participation.
Negativism, emotional reactions, personal attacks.
Drifting off topic with no facilitator to keep meeting focused and on track.
Resistance to change. Seeing barriers vs. solutions. Playing the Devil’s Advocate.
Not making extensive personal notes.
No clear strategic agreements.
No clear implementation plan, i.e. “who” will do “what” by “when” and “how will we know.”
Not reviewing, tweaking, and enhancing last meeting strategies.
Give careful thought to your meeting process, and design it to bring your people together. If the whole thing is a one-way flow of information with one person at the head of the table doing all the talking, it won’t stimulate much unity or positive change. If you want to experience a constant sense of growth and achievement in your dental office, then regular, well-planned, and well-executed full team meetings are the ticket to developing your dream team that will take you there.
As a dental business, we play a very important role in society. We don’t sell dentistry. We help our patients to live and feel better. We could even say we provide happiness served through the medium of dentistry. Carefully planned, well-run team meetings are the gravity that will pull your people together and organize your collective activities into this common theme. As a 21st century team, you must begin synchronizing your focus and activities to more effectively deliver these enriched experiences and outcomes to your customers. Then you will no longer be serving people’s teeth but their spirits as well. That’s when the profession of dentistry gets really exciting. That’s when our patients will perceive the greatest value from our services and be inspired to desire all that modern dentistry can do for their specific situations.
Remember, you don’t grow a business, you grow the people within your business; then together you can take your business anywhere. Developing yourself and growing leadership-minded team players around you are essential to growing a thriving practice that provides great service and achieves excellent results. Imagine coming to work with a bunch of enthusiastic, confident, and positive people who are all working together on behalf of a future to which they have all committed themselves. This takes leadership! Shared Leadership created during and following effective well-run team meetings!
That ever happened to the days gone by where you could graduate from dental school, obtain your license and walk into a treatment room feeling highly trusted and influential as an expert? In those days the dentist would simply look into the patient’s mouth, tell them what they see and recommend solutions! The solutions were usually accepted; they thanked you appreciatively and booked an appointment on their way out. Communication consisted primarily of the dentist telling the patient, “You have a problem, and I have the clinical procedure that will solve it.” It was an expert to novice obedient relationship based on a fire department fix-and-repair approach to patient care. Insurance plans tended to provide coverage for this type of dentistry as well; and if they didn’t have insurance, they were usually motivated by their discomfort and willing to pay out of pocket. Patient’s took their dentist’s opinion as fact in those days and seldom questioned things except for possibly expressing some fears associated with the procedure itself. In today’s changing world this antiquated approach to patient care will no longer work because the dental healthcare landscape has completely evolved on two significant fronts. Let’s briefly examine each!
Firstly, there has been a definite shift among the population from wanting to be regarded as “patients,” to one in which they view themselves as “health care consumers” with unique concerns, expectations and needs. “Consumers” who are more informed and in many cases misinformed or even confused (due to internet and excessive access to information). They arrive to our practice feeling like experts in themselves, and wanting to participate in their care as active and knowledgeable decision‐makers. As healthcare providers we must remember that two people may present with similar clinical circumstances but their needs and desires can turn out to be completely different. In caring for our patients we must appreciate the difference between “good clinical dentistry” and “good patient care”. “Good clinical dentistry” is delivered into a mouth where as “good patient care” is that dentistry served (via personalized communication & collaborative planning) into the life of the person attached to the teeth.
Secondly, dentistry is in a period of rapid transformation! The scope of available services is expanding vastly. There has been a definite shift from the reparative dentistry model to one where we are more focused on prevention and the enhancement of beauty and comfort. Today our work as clinicians is being conducted and delivered on a modernized playing field as well. Technology has transformed the dental experience for patients across the globe. Procedures are delivered so quickly and expertly that it’s becoming difficult for patients to feel apprehensive. With advances in research and technology today’s dental professionals have access to incredible materials, diagnostic aids and tools of the trade that not only take away some of the discomfort that was associated with sitting in the dentist’s chair, but they also streamline the experience so that it takes less time and becomes a more comfortable and even enjoyable experience. To stay on top of all these clinical advancements dentists are embracing much more continuing education and training. One of the biggest examples of this is the emergence and recent accelerated expansion of dental implants into the marketplace; as well as the number of clinicians offering them as solutions within their practice. Many experienced clinicians are also deciding to advance their existing implant skills by taking more advanced training with the aim of becoming even better at delivering these life enhancing solutions to their patients.
Firstly, there has been a definite shift among the population from wanting to be regarded as “patients,” to one in which they view themselves as “health care consumers” with unique concerns, expectations and needs.
The pursuit of clinical excellence is an honorable virtue. But what about expanding our ability to collaborate with patients who are rapidly evolving as healthcare consumers as well? The blunt reality is that we can only grow our clinical skills if we are in the routine “practice” of delivering what we are trained to do. This is where the patient/consumer can become either a catalyst or a barrier to our skill development depending on how we approach them. Most practitioners would experientially agree that the success of a modern dental practice depends entirely on how effectively it can influence patients to want optimal dental health. There is across the board agreement by respected clinicians and opinion leaders that “communication” is the core competency that will inspire your patients to trust you and to work more collaboratively with you in pursuit of their best dental health interests. This means that our entire collaboration must be converted from the all too common one-sided regurgitation of dental information (product and services dump) to a more interactive process that gets patients involved and guides them towards discovering for themselves that which is in their best interest.
In order to communicate more inspiringly each dentist must first begin to change the way they see themselves and their role in the care of their patients. Dentists/specialists are much more than highly skilled clinicians schooled in art and science of diagnosing and treating oral health conditions. You are also “oral health coaches”. When you feel your role as a coach, this in itself will begin to infect your communication to become more inspiring, more supportive, and more patient centered and solution driven. Remember the old adage “when you change the way you look at things the things you look at change”. It strongly applies here! As oral health coaches, you must take the time to see beyond the mouth to listen, understand and guide patients in self-discovery so that they are able to come to comfortable conclusions in their own mind and be more committed to those choices.
In our role as oral health coaches, how can we communicate more effectively? It begins by understanding that human beings are emotional creatures who process all decisions they make with their emotions/feelings. This means that when our patients walk into our practice they walk in with all of the emotional baggage related to past experiences as well as things that are going on in their life at that time, i.e. trips, career, work challenges, relationships, general health concerns, family matters, financial demands, self-image and self-esteem issues, etc. For basic procedures that are mostly covered by insurance we can often get away with telling them what they need without focusing on their current life circumstances and they’ll usually accept treatment. However, when the fees get higher and the complexity of care becomes more involved we must factor into our communication the fact that patients have a life outside the office. With the patient in the driver seat we must embark on a co-discovery journey of fitting the dentistry into their lives not into their mouths. To do this well we must reconnect with our authentic non-dental self. Which is the way we thought and spoke before the world of dentistry started crowding out our thinking with dental terms and industry jargon. This is why social skills are so important. These have little to do with talking, or having the “gift of gab”. They’re more about communicating with people by asking questions, listening, understanding and having empathy and rapport.
Your oral health coaching skills are developed when you ask questions and listen, when you focus to understand different behavior or communication styles, and when you adjust your style to fit other people’s styles. It’s the ability to understand the unspoken. To read body language! To pick up on voice tones, inflection, and facial expressions. It’s being able to intuitively crawl inside other people, then think and see the world as they do. It’s the willingness to listen to people without biases, and to understand their viewpoint. To suspend your view of how things are and understand their beliefs and opinions. Excellent coaching skills will help us jump onto other people’s trains of thought and ride with them as co-passengers. This is the stage on which the fullest scope of modern dental services can be inspired and delivered.
We are helping people to make decisions that can add to the quality of their lives.
It is important to remember that effective communication through an oral health coaching mindset has important benefits beyond case acceptance. It will also empower you to more constructively fulfill the important parameters of informed consent. Like many other professionals in the field of health care, dentists often struggle to fulfill these ethical and legal obligations. Practitioners must be mindful to ensure that they apply proper principles and judgment when seeking informed consent for treatment. In this day and age, the mere fact that someone sits down in a dental chair does not amount to giving consent. Obtaining informed consent involves a process of “effective communication” – a mere signed piece of paper may not suffice in the absence of a “meaningful dialogue” with the patient. Any discussion about consent to treatment should take place before treatment. This discussion needs to include information about the expected benefits of treatment; risks and side effects; alternatives to the proposed treatment, including the likely result if no treatment is done; materials to be used; any unique personal circumstances of the patient; and estimated fees to be charged. The dentist should ensure that he or she answers any questions the patient may have as well.
By reminding ourselves that dentistry is a helping profession, we will see more value in “oral health coaching” as a desired and supportive means to an end. We are helping people to make decisions that can add to the quality of their lives. By altering your thinking and approach slightly you can easily shift the focus from “us” and our procedures to “the patient” and the quality of life impact our services can have on their lives. This shift in thinking will enable us to communicate with our patients in a more mentorship based, collaborative and inspiring way.
Modern dentistry is bright and filled with opportunity when you choose to expand your clinical excellence while concurrently taking the time to grow as “oral health coaches”. “Oral health coaching” is the emerging yardstick that will differentiate you to become more effective as clinicians while feeling more trusted and valued in the eyes of your patients.
When it comes to clinical excellence, experience and expertise matter, but there is more to the story. Clinical excellence can only be served when patients feel empowered and motivated to take actions that are in their best oral health interests, and dentists play a key role in this process. The approach you take to connecting, communicating and collaborating with patients will not only help your patients and determine your ability to thrive, it will also increase the level of fulfillment you draw from being a dentist. After years of education and training, many dentistry graduates see themselves as highly skilled clinicians, and they tend to take a clinical approach when collaborating with patients. This approach can be somewhat self-limiting and less-than-inspiring to patients. Before your patients can begin exploring their oral health circumstances or opportunities, they need to feel authentically heard, understood and cared for by their care provider. A strong connection and focused communication are key to a comfortable trusting relationship.
Why Is Communication So Important?
That is the question every dentist needs to understand in order to become more effective at inspiring people and achieving professional and overall success. In his acclaimed best-selling book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek, ethnographer and author, notes that most people or organizations can explain “what” they do or “how” they do it, but few can clearly articulate “why.” Knowing why we do something or why we want to change our approach is a strong catalyst for positive change. “Why” in dentistry means understanding more clearly who you are communicating with and what you are communicating about. The main thing to remember is that you are not only in the dentistry profession serving people, you are also in the people business providing dentistry. Patients don’t buy dentistry. They want health, happiness, quality of life, comfort, confidence and the ability to enjoy all of life’s possibilities unhindered by pain, discomfort or embarrassment. This is where your role begins. It’s up to all clinicians (and their team) to help patients understand the value of any procedure they choose to have. So how do you do this? It isn’t that difficult to achieve, once your primary focus shifts from teeth or procedures to becoming more acutely tuned-in to the person attached to the mouth. This will enable you to deliver your message in a more personal and supportive manner, as well as in a service-focused and solution-driven way. As professionals, dentists must begin to make this evolutionary transition because in today’s marketplace, saying, “Trust me, I’m a doctor,” no longer works as effectively as it did in years gone by.
Asking Questions Shows You Care
Rather than automatically communicating facts in an expert-to-novice manner, you can begin by asking more patient-directed questions such as: “Have you noticed this tooth is changing colour? What do you know about gum disease?” Or you can try more reflective questions such as: “How do you feel about the health of your mouth? On a scale of one-to-10, where would you put yourself? Why do you feel you are a seven and not a 10? What concerns you most about this? What’s most important to you about your health and the care we provide you? If you are discussing a procedure such as implants, you can ask: Why are you considering implants? What do you hope to gain from this?” You should be the one doing most of the listening. By asking questions you are empowering your patients to self-reflect, explore and come to conclusions on their own or in partnership with you ‒ and to be more committed to those conclusions because they feel they have had a strong role in the decision-making.
Today’s patients no longer arrive at the office as passive recipients seeking our expertise, especially now that the Internet offers access to so much information. Often patients are more informed when they come in to see us, though in many cases they may be misinformed or confused. That’s why so many are seeking out second opinions. They often find themselves not knowing who to trust or what to believe. This means that our role to inform, guide and inspire them has expanded as well. We must remember that communicating only the clinical details of a patient’s dental health won’t inspire that patient to feel trust, hope or value. When we focus our sights on people and what they think and feel, we have a natural tendency to communicate more effectively ‒ and that will build a stronger connection between you and your patients.
Published in Ontario Dentist • October 2015 • Practice Management
It has been stated by many in history who are known for their wisdom that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your “RELATIONSHIPS.” Low quality relationships lead to a low quality of life! High quality relationships lead to a high quality of life! The quality of your relationships in turn is determined by the quality of your “COMMUNICATION.” This correlation between our communication, our relationships, and our overall satisfaction in life is powerful yet it very often it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Most human resource experts will tell you that “happiness in the workplace”has a huge impact on your overall effectiveness and success as a team. Just think; the average dentist spends 8–10 of his or her waking hours each work-day at the office. This can be extrapolated to mean that for the average clinician most of your non-sleeping time Monday to Friday is actually spent with your co-workers/employees. As a result; the quality of your relationships with these people is going to have a dramatic impact on your overall personal happiness and professional effectiveness. This article will examine strategies for minimizing and managing conflict as a means to strengthen team harmony and success.
It is extremely important to get along well with the people you spend most of your time with because how you feel while you are around these people not only impacts your performance at work, it also impacts other areas of your life. Some might say that they can leave work at work and home at home. But is this really possible? For example; when you are in love with someone can you file your love for them away when you arrive to work in the morning and by the same token when you experience a human dynamic tension at work can you suddenly eject those feelings and keep them from coming home with you? No way! Your feelings follow and stick to you like glue. Your heart stays in your chest where ever you go. Our intellectual mind might tell us otherwise. But at the core of our essence we are human and contrary to popular belief human beings are not really intellectual logical creatures. Human beings are “EMOTIONAL CREATURES” who use logic and intellect to justify and understand their emotions. This concept is also true of our patients when they make buying decisions in our practice. Patients shop with emotions (their hearts). They then use logical reasoning to justify their buying decision. This is why it is important to develop and nurture a positive emotional climate in our workplace. Emotions are powerful. Emotions are infectious. Emotions affect everyone including our patients. How we feel while we do what we do is at the core of our effectiveness. Emotions affect our ability to lead, to sell, and to feel united and passionate about our service. For most dentists, however; the concept of “leading people and keeping them emotionally united and aligned” was not something they signed up for when applying to dental school. Many clients tell me they wish for workplace harmony but they just don’t have the time, the energy, or the patience to babysit the emotional climate in their practice.
I guess it would help to look at team chemistry as more than just “babysitting” emotions. Dentistry is not only a medical profession that serves the human condition it is also a business where influencing customer’s decisions and profitability are a necessity. Your team’s level of unity plays a huge factor in their ability to collectively influence customers. Imagine coming to your office in the morning and feeling like you are surrounded by a bunch of enthusiastic confident positive people who like each other, support each other and are all working together on behalf of a future they have all committed themselves to. Is this possible? If it is already happening in your practice, can it happen at a higher level? It is my experience that it can. At the end of the day everything we experience in life is related to people in one way or another. Relationships in the dental office can be a source of daily misery and frustration or they can be a beautiful thing that fills your heart and soul on a daily basis. Just think of a very emotional time in your life where you felt a strong emotion such as happiness, sadness, anger, or fear. If you look at it carefully the situation probably had something to do with or involved other people. People affect people in a big way. The Greek philosopher Plato said that the greatest need of the human soul is the need to feel heard, understood, and appreciated by others.
Now let’s examine the emotional climate in your practice for a moment. Are team conflict and egos getting in the way of your goals? Are differences and selfcentredness dividing your team and causing you headaches? Are tensions and adversity weakening your team and its performance? Leading organizations today are realizing that it’s difficult to achieve the level of teamwork needed to really excel as a business unless you first deal with the all too common destructive behaviours that fuel unresolved conflicts in the workplace.
Far too many people trade their life, and a bit of their soul, for a paycheque. They tolerate endless hours of meaningless work, disappointing relationships, conflicts, gossip, and frustration so they can have fun on the weekend and during their two-week vacation. Similar frustrations hold true for managers and practice owners; far too many go home at night feeling frustrated and disappointed because of the conflicts at work, the lack of creativity and productivity, and the loss of progress and profits. For many in the game of dentistry this is what they endure and live with each day at the office. Keep in mind these conflicts do not just exist at an adversarial level. You can like a co-worker and still experience unmet expectations or little discourtesies that fester and build frustration into your work environment over time.
Things don’t have to be this way. Feeling connected and getting along is the most important ingredient on the path to functioning as a high performing team that achieves collective results. Before game 1 of a recent 7 game NBA finals series the announcer, in an interview with retired basketball legend the great “Doctor J” Julius Irving, asked him his pick to win the series and what he felt the keys to victory would be. Doctor J’s response was compelling. In an impassioned and spirited pre-game tone he said either team can win the series, “the key to victory will be 10 players who play in sync with each other, in sync with the coach, in sync with the organization and with one goal.” Wow; is this requirement any different when we are playing the game of dentistry with our coworkers? Whenever we come to work, we’re in a sense, suiting up and stepping on a playing field with our teammates. Each person in the practice plays an important role in the big picture of what we are trying to achieve for our patients and as a business in our community. Our collective level of unity and connection will have a tremendous impact on our effectiveness as a team. Connection in the workplace will significantly affect a team’s morale, stress, and the level of fulfillment people draw from their role in the practice.
If we call unity the engine of team’s potential, then communication would be the fuel. As a practice mastery coach the most common desire I hear from owners, managers, and team members alike is that “we need to be more united … more connected.” It is relationships and communication challenges that seem to be a common recurring theme that people wish to develop within their business. Today people are realizing more and more that to really accelerate the growth of your business you must first grow the people within your business; then together as a more synchronized united team you can take your business anywhere. In my day-to-day coaching practice, my new clients and I go through a discovery consultation where we explore their circumstances, opportunities, and desires for growth and development. Then prior to beginning the implementation process I candidly interview each member of the team to discover what is going on in the hearts and minds of the people who will be at the centre of all positive change initiatives. As soon as I begin the interviews an often hidden world begins to reveal itself. The underlying team dynamics, relationship issues, and communication challenges begin to surface. These discoveries often come as a surprise to people especially to practice leaders and managers. I frequently hear things like … “I had no Idea this was going on” or “I had no idea they felt this way.” Sometimes it’s just one person who is bringing down the morale and operational ability of the entire team but more often it’s a series of cliques and subgroups that have evolved and are fragmenting the team’s effectiveness; the most common one being clinical team versus business team. The question we must explore is “why do these conflicts occur in the first place? If we know they fragment the team into sub-groups, reducing cooperation and unity; why do we let them happen?” People often say to me “we are all really good caring people who like each other yet we experience these co-worker interpersonal issues.” It is important for us to understand that you don’t have to be a bad person or have bad intentions to get caught up in a conflict. The dental practice by design is a very intimate setting where people with diverse backgrounds and unique personalities are required to communicate and work together at a very interdependent level. The things we do the things we don’t do and the way we do them have a significant impact on our coworkers ability to perform their jobs smoothly and at a high level. The major advantage a team has over an individual is its diversity of knowledge, skills, views, and ideas. Unfortunately with this diversity comes potential for conflict. Conflict arises from our differences. When highly skilled individuals come together at work to play a team game their differences can contribute to the creation of conflict. This conflict immediately begins to emotionally hijack, fragment, and divide the team. However, we must understand that this so called conflict in work teams is not necessarily destructive or a bad thing. It can lead to innovative new ideas and approaches to operational processes and challenges. Conflict, in this sense, can be considered positive, as it facilitates the surfacing of important issues and provides opportunities for people to strengthen their connections while developing their communication and interpersonal skills. Conflict only becomes negative if it is left to fester and escalate to a point where people begin to feel defeated, combative and territorial (my job-your-job).
It is my observation that conflicts usually arise from communication failures which include poor listening skills; insufficient sharing of information; differences in interpretation and perception; and nonverbal cues being ignored or missed. It is important to understand that regardless of the scenario conflict is not an external set of events that we have the misfortune of being exposed to. It is more of an internal process that is driven by our thoughts and attitude. We “Fuel” conflict. People create conflict based on how they choose to interpret a situation and based on the approach they choose to take when dealing with it. It has been said that “the greatest gap in nature is the gap between one man’s thinking and another man’s thinking.” I think the problem arises when we begin to attach our diverse needs and alternate viewpoints to our emotions and then begin to judge others accordingly. People can do this to a point where they become adversarial towards anyone with viewpoints that deviate from theirs.
It’s easy to win or dominate a disagreement at the expense of team unity and connection; especially if you hold a position of authority! All you have to do is not listen and communicate more strongly than the other person and you win. But do you really win in the grander scheme of things? The key to connecting positively with others is rooted in being willing to explore beyond our personal points of view so as to better understand how others are experiencing a particular situation. The question we should all ask ourselves is “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy.” If your goal is to be right then your approach will be to shame, blame, label, and prove the other person wrong. If your goal is to be happy then your approach will be to express your needs and viewpoint while sincerely attempting to understand the needs and viewpoint of the person you are dealing with. The problem is that most people, especially when they are stressed; tend to get caught up in their favourite subject (themselves). This personal bias hinders meaningful productive conversation with others and leads to the polarization of hearts and minds. Our personal bias causes us to “judge people by their behaviour; meanwhile we are judging ourselves by the intentions of our behaviour” without fully understanding its actual impact on others. If you really want to solve a difficult situation you must take the time to listen and to acknowledge the other persons intentions and view point. Be flexible on the road you take to happiness!
When a situation arises with an employee or peer it requires fuel before it can become a conflict. That fuel source is energy, time and attention. Let’s look at a simple 10 step process we can follow in order to resolve conflicts quickly thereby preserving our energy, time and attention and for the purpose of doing more positive and productive things.
Ask yourself, what meaning have I attached to this … could this mean something else?
Ask the person for their help.
Ask the person for permission to discuss your concerns with them.
State the situation as you see it without using destructive labels to describe their behaviour. Describe the action you have issues with without labelling the behaviour (i.e., you are lazy/you are inconsiderate).
Explain their behaviours’ impact on you while showing show respect for their intentions. “This affects me by _________.I understand this is not your intention because I know who you are.”
Ask them to help you understand and solve this situation.
Listen deeply and acknowledge their viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree, you are merely acknowledging not agreeing. In most cases the more heard and understood you make them feel the more deeply they will receive and accept your viewpoint.
When these steps are followed you create a stage on which to discuss a solution; if a solution is necessary. In the very least you can walk away understanding each other better which usually causes people to behave in ways that are more supportive of each other’s needs.
If specific resolution is required continue on by making a win-win behaviour modification agreement.
Define the heart/root of the problem not the surface
Brainstorm ideas c. Eliminate ideas either party feels won’t work
Clarify remaining ideas e. Iron out details … who/when/what/where/how f. Evaluation … revisit this in the future
Thank each other for caring enough to give feedback and to listen and understand each other.
You: I need your help with something! Can we talk? When you _________ I feel ________. It affects my role__________. I know that is not your intention because I know who you are! Can you help me understand or solve this?
Them: I’m sorry that is not my intention…I don’t mean_______. I do that because________. I didn’t realize__________.
You and Them: Walk away understanding each other better or discuss and resolve follow up behavioural modifications required to improve things for both parties.
Them: ”Thanks for letting me know.”
You: “Thanks for listening!”
Now let’s look at 17 very powerful general guidelines for dealing more positively with a co-worker issue.
Speak only to that person and discuss issues privately, not publicly.
Address issues as soon as possible.
Do not address issues while either person is in an emotionally charged state.
Communicate your concerns openly and honestly without sugar-coating or nursing a silent personal agenda.
Avoid being defensive. “LISTEN” to each other and acknowledge each other’s views even if you don’t agree.
Don’t get personal. Avoid character labels and name calling … i.e., “you are lazy,” “you don’t think,” “you don’t care.” Focus on the behaviour not the person.
Speak to one issue at a time. Don’t overload the person.
Deal only with actions the person can change − asking the impossible only builds frustration into your relationship.
Once you’ve made your point don’t keep repeating it. 10. Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm signals you are angry at people not their actions and may cause them to resent you.
Avoid playing “gotcha” type games.
Avoid generalizations like “ALWAYS/NEVER.” They usually detract from accuracy and make people defensive.
Present criticisms as suggestions or questions if possible.
Don’t forget the complements.
Don’t apologize for the confrontational meeting. Doing so detracts from it 32 Journal canadien de dentisterie restauratrice et de prosthodontie Deécembre 2008 and indicates you are not sure you had the right to express your concerns.
Be able to forgive! Release yourself and your emotions from the burden of chronic dissatisfaction and frustration by practicing the art of forgiveness on a daily basis.
Finally and most importantly; be aware of how you interpret situations. Always ask yourself, “what meaning have I attached to this … a positive one or a negative one?” “Could this mean something else?” “Do I have all the information?” Be prepared to listen.
Instead of “Conflict Resolution Skills” I prefer to call these “Connection Management Guidelines” since there is no “CONFLICT” until we begin applying the destructive behaviours that reduce important issues to a personal and adversarial level. The ultimate question we must always ask ourselves before a confrontation is “do I want to be right or do I want to be happy.” If your goal is to be happy then focus on staying connected. Communicate with a core desire to build cooperation into your relationship by learning more about each other. Connection Management is a proactive way of growing your business by strengthening the teamwork and unity of your people.
Harper G. (2004). The Joy of Conflict Resolution. Gabriola Island: BC: New Society Publishers
Alessandra T, O’Connor MJ,Van Dyke J. (1995). People Smarts. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.
Sanders T. (2005). The Likeability Factor. New York: Random House.
O’Neill M. Transform Stress & Conflict into Growth & Change. (Audio CD). Available at: http://www.maryoneill.com/ audio-seminar-series.html.
Goleman D. (1998).Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Goleman D. (2007).Social Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books
Shapiro S, Schefdore R. Better Service Better Income Better Dentistry.
Homoly P.(2006). Making it Easy for Patients to Say Yes. Charlotte, NC: Author.
Lund P. (1997). Building the Happiness Centred Business. Brisbane, Australia: Solutions Press.
Jameson C. (1999). Great Communication Equals Great Production, 2nd Ed. Tulsa, OK: Penn Well Publishing.
How much of an impact does our communication really have on our ability to succeed and thrive in the field of dentistry?
Across the board there is virtual agreement by opinion leaders in business development that “communication” is the core competency that can turn a group of highly skilled individuals into a high-performing team. Results in dentistry are built on many small coordinated team activities that when collectively applied begin to have a significant combined impact on your patients, your profits and on your fulfillment.
Ultimately it is only through our communication and connection with others that we can truly function at this higher level of business success. The silent but mistaken belief many in society hold is that the best communicators are the best talkers. Is this really true or is there something more to mastering this somewhat elusive talent?
Let’s take a moment to ponder two things… First: “How effective can we really be at inspiring patient interest in the fullest scope of our services unless they feel completely heard and understood in our presence?” Second: “How effective can we be as a dental team if individual team members, during their day-to-day interaction with one another, are primarily focused on being heard and no one really listens?”
Here is my premise… that no matter what you do or who you are, the quality of your life is determined more than any other factor by the quality of your relationships (at work/at home/with patients). Low quality relationships, low quality of life… high quality relationships, high quality of life. The quality of your relationships is determined by your ability to communicate. There is one skill, one talent that will make the most immediate and positive difference in your communication excellence.
This talent is like gravity, it’s so core to human existence that we rarely think about. This talent is like telephone poles… something so apparent that we rarely stop to notice it. This talent is so important that it could transform your business and personal life. Many people have personally shared with me that this talent helped them strengthen workplace unity and relationships, increased their sales or helped them to become better leaders. This talent, this skill is the missing link in communication and it’s called “LISTENING.” If you take the letters in the word “LISTENING” and rearrange them you get the word “SILENT.” Listening is the silent skill that enhances communication effectiveness.
Throughout my personal and professional life I’ve experienced or witnessed many conversations where people were talking without the benefits of real communication occurring. Yet in many cases neither party seemed to recognize that a failure to connect had actually occurred, or where the failure originated! The problem, I believe, is rooted in our deepest psychological consciousness. There is a little voice inside each of our heads that is usually talking louder than the person we are speaking with. If you’re thinking “WHAT VOICE?”… that’s the voice… the little voice in your head that’s constantly talking to you, the one that decides to judge, evaluate, agree or disagree with what the other person is saying. Our internal voice is usually more focused on advancing our own agenda than on understanding the agenda of the person we are speaking with. In his best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey makes this suggestion… “seek first to understand, then to be understood!”
I have come to realize that there is a big difference between a conversation and communication. That difference is rooted in our ability to listen. One day after work a client of mine had a heated and lengthy conversation with a valued employee after which she quit her job. Her reason for leaving as expressed to her co-workers was “he didn’t understand me; he just didn’t listen to me.” “How could this be?” thought the puzzled owner … “we spoke for almost two hours.” Lesser versions of this scenario play out daily in the dental office. It happens because talking has very little to do with effective communication. Talking is a “conversation” which is merely an exchange of words … that’s it! “Communication” on the other hand can be seen as more of an exchange of understanding, desires or viewpoints. This means that for effective, high-level communication to occur, both parties must have their receiving stations on. The only way to do this is by listening more and talking less. Simply put, a conversation is “sending focused” while communication tends to be more “receiving focused.”
By the way, when I refer to listening, I don’t mean hearing (auditory sounds in the ear). Hearing and listening are two totally different subjects. Steve Shapiro in his book “Listening for Success” explains it like this… “Have you ever said to someone, ‘You’re not listening to me!’ and they say, ‘Yes I am. I can repeat everything you just said’ and they do — but you still know they haven’t listened. Listening is not the same as hearing because you can actually hear someone without understanding the content of their message or the intended meaning behind their words.”
Hearing occurs with your ears… listening occurs with your mind, your heart and your spirit.
Hearing is a physical process… listening is a mental, emotional and spiritual process.
Hearing is easy… audible sound… listening takes effort.
Hearing is involuntary… listening is a choice.
Hearing is one of your senses… listening is one of your human capacities.
You can hear someone without listening…
To hear you do not have to care… but to listen you must care.
My four-year-old son recently explained this concept to me in layman’s terms. I asked him why he didn’t listen to his kindergarten teacher when she told him to stop running in class. His explanation in a humbled guilty voice was… “I heard her daddy, I just didn’t listen.” In adult terms what he meant was that he in fact physiologically heard her but consciously paid little attention to the intended meaning behind her words. In the workplace, how often do we miss valuable opportunities to fully listen to our customers and co-workers?
Listening is a precious gift. You should give it to each other and the people you serve each day. When you enthusiastically give people the gift of listening it will be cherished and tends to be reciprocated. When your customers and co-workers feel heard and understood in your presence they will tend to become more open to exploring your message. This is very empowering because, while you listen, you are in fact leading people in the direction of your ideas. Listening is in fact the greatest tool we can use for connecting with and releasing potential in others. The great J.W. Marriott said “I’ve concluded that listening is the single most important on-the-job skill that a good manager can cultivate in his team.”
I have always been fascinated why people like Gandhi, Einstein, and Martin Luther King succeeded in life while other people who may be equally talented and hard working achieve only mediocre results. Why do some dental teams always seem to win, to be “in the zone,” while others do not? Why do some teams have to work twice as hard and twice as long as others only to achieve the same results? The answer lies in something that is at the root of all great things that are created in business and in life. The answer is teamwork. Gandhi, Einstein, and Martin Luther King didn’t work alone! They surrounded themselves with people who passionately shared in their dream. There is a difference between a group of highly skilled individuals versus a group of people who are playing together a team game. Different results show up around a group of people who are truly playing together as a team.
In seminars & workshops when I talk about teamwork I see many people nodding their heads but often in a desperate sort of way. They seem to grasp the concepts in theory while simultaneously surrendering to the impossibility of actually making it happen in their own workplace. It is my observation that the ultimate key to success in dentistry, before clinical skills, before finance, before technology, before strategy is our ability to come together as a team. Although core levels of these other competencies are important it is our level of teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage in business. In the words of the great business leader; John C. Maxwell… “You don’t grow a business, you grow the people within a business then together you can take your business anywhere”.
So what is this seemingly mystical and elusive concept of Teamwork really all about? Is it really possible, or is it “pie in the sky” dreaming. We hear the term used so often and so loosely today that it loses its full meaning. When I ask staff members to define “Teamwork” it usually brings about responses like “working together” “helping each other” and “supporting each other”. But do these behaviours really turn a group of people into a high performing team that achieves collective results? Real teamwork involves something deeper than merely covering a co-workers position while they are temporarily busy doing something else.
The most effective teams generally seem to have one thing in common that sets them apart from their competitors. They have a common vision. A vision that each employee passionately strives to fulfill each day through their unique role in the practice. Each member of
the team is operating with the same compelling purpose that drives all of their daily activities and decisions. Without a clear vision our work functions lose their meaning and our role can become reduced to a series of meaningless boring tasks that serves no purpose beyond the task itself… scheduling appointments / filling teeth / cleaning teeth / turning over the treatment room / sterilizing instruments / collecting the money…It is this operational level of consciousness that robs people of the opportunity to experience meaning and fulfillment in the workplace. It is this operational level of activity that reduces a potentially strong team to a loose collection of people working together.
Having a clear vision is a powerful form of self-development. It is the main thing that keeps a person from becoming bored and burning out. We all have many needs in life; the need for variety, the need for significance, the need for connection, but ultimately we must grow, and we must contribute in a meaningful way in order to feel fulfilled. In the dental office we must have a sense of purpose for what we do opposed to simply working as individuals who are only striving to improve their job performance.
The following are some practical steps to creating a powerful vision in the workplace:
All team members take 30 minutes in a quiet place to write down in detail the role they feel your practice serves in society…not their job function in the practice.
Schedule a full team meeting.
Each member of the team presents their list to the group.
Enter into a group discussion and consolidate each team members ideas into one comprehensive master list.
Now as a group you must begin to dream… begin a roundtable discussion on what you would like to create over the next 12 months to two years in your business. How do you want grow, how do you want to be different from the practice down the street… unique dentistry, décor, customer service, technology, etc…
Schedule a follow-up meeting one week later… over the next couple of days each team member should expand their imagination and make notes as to what they desire to cre- ate in their workplace over the next 12 months – two yrs.
At the next meeting each team member presents their list to the group.
Enter into a group discussion and consolidate each team members ideas into one comprehensive master list.
Now as a group, combine your growth and development desires list with your role in society list and narrow down the text into a short paragraph that accurately depicts who you are, what you do and where you’re headed.
Frame it… and hang it away from patients view, some- where where your entire team can read it each day. (A vision statement is different from a mission statement. A vision emphasizes your desires for your business growth and development where as a mission focuses more on the value of your service in people’s lives.)
If done well, your vision will also be written in the hearts and minds of your team, influencing their daily decisions and fostering an important sense of commitment and involvement. We all require a higher purpose that unites and binds our collective activities. A vision is more than a nicely framed written statement that hangs in the lunchroom. It enables people to experience a deeper sense of excitement and fulfillment from their chosen career.
Over the last 10 years, dentistry has undergone a major transformation. It is reinventing itself before our very eyes. We no longer have to operate at the level of a repair clinic that focuses mostly on procedures and transactions. Our procedures help people live a better life. We provide happiness. We sell the ability to live comfortably and feel good. Our role in society is truly changing.
As a 21st century team you must begin aligning your focus and communication to more accurately convey these changes to your patients. Then you will no longer be serving people’s teeth but their spirits as well. That’s when the profession of dentistry really gets exciting. That’s when a group of highly skilled individuals can merge their collective activities under the umbrella of one common theme. That’s when our patients will perceive the greatest value from our services.
In Part II (Winter 2006 DPM ) we will explore the core functional requirements of a team and how to use our vision as a catalyst for creative, high involvement, results producing team meetings.
In part one of this two-part series we explored the importance of having a clear and achievable vision as a road map for conducting our daily activities in the practice. We also discussed how to create a business vision by involving your entire team in the process. Here we will explore the core functional requirements of a team and how to use your vision as a catalyst for running creative, high involvement, meetings that produce results.
Never before in the history of the workplace has the concept of teamwork been more important to the functioning of successful organizations. The same is true for the business of dentistry. With the rapid social, technological and informational changes that are occurring, the landscape in which we practice dentistry is quite different today from even 10 years ago. Everything we can do for our patient today is more complex and more technologically advanced. With these advancements come new and emerging challenges that require dental teams to work together in deeper and more creative ways. No longer can we depend upon a few peak performers to rise to the top and carry the growth of our practice. The most successful teams will be those who can figure out ways to tap into the collective creativity and unique abilities of all team members.
It is important for practice leaders to recognize that the modern employee has evolved from early 19th century traditional work values. Merely working for money and to make the boss happy is no longer satisfying to the 21st century dental professional. Today people want more in order to feel fulfilled. They want to be challenged with meaningful work, they want to feel recognized and appreciated for their efforts, and they need to feel a sense of growth in their careers either through promotion or by constantly reinventing what they do each day. Today’s employee will be most excited and committed to their place of employment when they have a voice in the organization and when they are provided a platform from which to exercise their strengths and creativity.
This is why taking time out of our practice to work on our practice is so important. Well-run team meetings are the key to creating whatever we want in our practice and in our professional lives. It is important to recognize that well-run team meetings achieve much more than just an action plan for solving problems. They increase each individual team member’s ownership and commitment to the growth of the business. Meetings get people involved. They unleash the creative powers and collective wisdom of your people. They fuel an atmosphere of camaraderie, which will transform a work environment from a culture of “ME” to a culture of “WE”!
If meetings are so important then why do so many practices have them so infrequently? It is my experience that the average dental office holds approximately one meeting per month and usually not all members of the team are present. Wow! Let’s compare this to the world of sports where having a synchronized united team is the difference between winning and losing. The average sports team holds an average of three practices per game played. Compare this to the world of dentistry where we are often hesitant to take time out of our schedule to have even one planning meeting (practice) per month due to a “short sighted fear” of losing production time. Our doors are open approximately 175 hours/month serving customers (playing the game of dentistry) yet we take only 1-2 hours/month for planning the growth and development of our business. Take a moment to compare these ratios. No wonder so many practices hit a ceiling where further growth without working proportionately harder is no longer possible.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “If I had two hours to chop down a tree I would spend one hour sharpening my axe.” How many of us in our practice are chopping with a dull axe each day, or an axe that at the very least could be a little bit sharper. When our axe is dull everything we do takes more effort, more time and more energy, only to produce the same results. It is very difficult and rather dangerous to attempt to sharpen our axe while we’re busy swinging it. Similarly in dentistry, it is very difficult and it breeds confusion and stress to attempt to plan/implement new initiatives while you’re busy serving customers
Keep in mind that simply having a meeting isn’t enough to guarantee success. How many times have we walked away from a meeting feeling emotionally frustrated and nothing really changed. This is where leadership becomes really important. It is the practice leader’s responsibility to cultivate a workplace atmosphere that fosters five core conditions required for successful meetings to take place. When these are absent your meeting effectiveness will be severely compromised:
Environment of trust… individual team members must trust each other and feel safe to expose their strengths, weaknesses and views while being vulnerable within the group.
Comfort in brainstorming… team members must trust each other enough to engage in unfiltered and passionate debateof ideas. People must be genuinely open to debate without resorting to veiled discussions and guarded comments.
Unconditional commitments… after airing their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members must buy in and commit to group decisions without silently nursing their commitment to old ways of doing things.
Supportive cross-team accountability… it is up to each of us on the team to support our peers and comment on each other’s actions and behaviors when they begin to steer astray from commitments made in meetings.
Monitor progress… we must constantly review, track and tweak new initiatives until they are fully in effect and feel natural.
Creative innovation/reinvention… we must continuously reexamine our activities, especially the ones that seem to be working. Can we find new and innovative ways to achieve our goals each day? Can we align our activities to better meet the changing landscape of business and clinical dentistry?
We must walk away from each team meeting with a deeper sense of our circumstances and opportunities and with a clear set of strategies for moving in the direction of our goals. Meetings must not become gripe sessions. They should draw from the collective wisdom of the group and allow all team members to be an integral part of running the business. Regardless of what role you play in the practice, everyone’s perspective and ideas are powerful ingredients for planning the growth and development of your business. I have seen dental teams walk out of well-run team meetings with ideas and strategies that none of them would have ever been able to come up with on their own. As the saying goes… “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Over the years I have compiled a list of the most common things that seem to consistently destroy productive meetings. Has your team ever fallen victim to any of these?
No clear pre-planned purpose or agenda
Not enough time scheduled.
Taking our eye off the ball by getting personal and territorial.
Whole team not present.
Negativism and lack of creative involved enthusiastic participation.
Remaining open / answering phones / serving customers during meetings.
Eating during meetings.
Not taking notes.
Drifting off topic with no “facilitator” to keep us focused and on track.
No clear set of walk away strategies (what exactly will each of us do differently from now on?).
No follow-up plan to monitor strategies and track results.
Finally, give careful thought to your meeting process, and design it to bring your people together. If the whole thing is a one-way flow of information, with one person at the head of the table doing all the talking, it won’t stimulate much unity or positive change. If you want to experience a constant sense of growth and achievement in your dental office then regular, well planned and well executed full team meetings are the ticket to your dreams. As a dental business we play a very important role in society. We don’t sell dentistry. We help our patients live a better life. We provide happiness through the medium of dentistry. Carefully planned well run team meetings are the gravity that will pull your people together and organize your collective activities under the umbrella of this common theme.
For most dentists the concept of “selling” was not something they signed up for when applying to dental school. In fact for many clinicians, especially first-decade dentists when they hear the word “sales” it conjures up images of manipulating people into parting with their hard-earned money.The underlying mentality is that; we are a medical profession and should simply be able to tell people what they need and they should just trust us and understand our advice. This viewpoint can be somewhat self limiting because most of us practice in a fee-for-service environment where even if the patient has dental insurance, the average policy does not completely cover a lot of what modern dentistry has to offer. This means that our ability to deliver optimal health and wellness to society will rest largely on our ability to inspire our patients to desire and pay for what we can do for them.
So what is it about this concept of “Selling” that so many of us in our profession feel so uncomfortable with? Is “selling something to someone” really a bad thing? Or is it our approach to selling that determines its ethics and integrity? Does it have to be a manipulative dishonourable process or can it be something beautiful and empowering that connects us to people and empowers us to help them? I think the answer to this question depends largely on how we perceive and define the process of “selling” in our own mind. My observation is that it is the old school negative approach to “selling” usually applied by what we call “pushy sales people” that most clinicians have an aversion to. You know the ones … the fast talking … manipulative … sly … heartless … dishonest sales person who has poor listening skills and could care less about what you think because they are focused on one thing only “closing the deal and getting your money.” Selling doesn’t have to occur this way. How we decide to deliver the selling/buying experience to our patients is completely within our control. It is a conscious choice each of us can make.
How you define the process of “sales” in your own mind will be powerful in influencing how you deliver the buying experience. I recently asked a group of dentists who said they hate “selling” to create an ideal definition of term “sales” based on how they feel about it … here is what they came up with …“sales is a process of coercing someone into buying something they don’t want or think they need.” Wow! If that’s how you allow yourself to see selling then everything you say to your patient during a case presentation will be tainted with this negative belief system. In silent, powerful, and unseen ways you will unconsciously project or mirror these beliefs on to your patients through your choice of words, body language, and through your overall approach to the entire process.
Your underlying motives and beliefs have everything to do with how you present yourself and your ideas to people. With all the beautiful advances modern dentistry has to offer today, if we are to succeed as clinicians in the 21st century it is imperative that we don’t view case presentations as a process of convincing customers or pushing them into things. That’s why we must redefine the term “Sales” and give it a more positive and purposeful meaning that can guide us towards delivering a more positive buying experience to our patients. The great philosopher Plato said “the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Our new improved meaning for selling should be based on the process of what we are really trying to achieve when we communicate with patients. It should sound something like this … “sales is a process of engaging someone intellectually while enabling them to commit themselves emotionally to make the decisions and take the actions towards a desirable outcome” or more simply put “sales is a process of helping people to make decisions that will add to their quality of life.” This means that our entire case presentation must be converted from the all too common one-sided regurgitation of dental information (product and services dump) to a more interactive process that gets patients involved and guides them towards discovering for themselves that which is in their best interest. When you sell with ethics and integrity you don’t have to approach people with the intent of selling them something: rather, your goal will be to gain rapport and understand their objectives so you can help them get what they need.
Have you ever been sold something and then days or even months later wondered why you bought it? When you came to the conclusion that you were “sold to,” how did you feel – about yourself, the salesperson who sold it to you, and the company that he/she works for or owns? However, you’ve also bought products and services that were unnecessary but you didn’t feel the same negativity towards the salesperson or the company. Why? In those instances, you were an integral part of the purchasing process. If your sales process is a one sided regurgitation of procedures and techniques then this may not be very emotionally appealing to patients and they will not buy. To counter this challenge many sales training programs, seminars, or books on selling present it as a series of strategies, gimmicks, or attempts to control behaviour – all designed to get a potential buyer to say “Yes.” The problem with these teachings is that they often promote manipulative sales techniques. They teach strategies like tie downs, open probes, get them while their hot, overcome objections, up sell (would you like a crown with that) … probe for the close (any reason we can’t schedule today?). These manipulative sales techniques may raise your batting average slightly on a per incidence bases but they do not form the foundation for long-term trusting mutually rewarding relationships with patients who are committed to preserving and enhancing their life-long dental health in partnership with your office. In fact; while coaching hundreds of dental professionals it is my observation that when patients say “yes” based on how they were sold in many cases they may not actually be “committed” to the treatment they are accepting. If you pressure patients into accepting treatment you can often get them to “comply” with treatment, but when they comply (act of being pressured into something) they do not emotionally commit themselves to the process or to the potential positive outcomes. Have you ever noticed the common phenomenon with patients who hesitantly accept treatment under sales pressure? They are often very difficult to completely satisfy? No matter how good you make the clinical outcome they seem to find reasons to be dissatisfied. Then on other hand I’m sure you have had patients for whom you were not fully satisfied with your clinical excellence yet this patient just loved your work and referred their friends and co-workers. I believe the difference between these two scenarios lies mostly in the level of commitment that was achieved with the patient during the selling process (case presentation). There is a big difference between compliance and commitment. When patients comply with care we tend to become mostly responsible for them. When they commit to care they tend to take more responsibility for themselves and for the clinical outcomes. Committed patients tend to become more positively involved in their care which is evidenced by their behaviour in the practice – following clinical instructions, realistic expectations of clinical outcomes, keeping their appointments and paying on time etc. Pressure sales is what most of us have an aversion to because it can lead to pressure case acceptance which means that we end up babysitting the patient through the entire process while looking like a pushy salesman and feeling undervalued and under-appreciated.
Human beings are emotional creatures who process all decisions they make with their emotions/feelings. This means that when our patients walk into our practice they walk in with all of the emotional baggage related to things that are going on in their life at any one time – trips, job, relationships, other health concerns, family goals/challenges, new car, self image and self esteem issues, rent, credit card debt, going back to school, etc. For basic procedures that are mostly covered by insurance we can usually get away with telling them what they need without focusing on their current life circumstances and they’ll usually accept treatment. However; when the fees get higher and the complexity of care becomes more involved we must factor into our communication the fact that patients have a life outside the office and then with the patient in the driver seat we must embark on a co-discovery journey of fitting the dentistry into their lives not into their mouths. To do this well we must reconnect with our authentic non-dental self. Which is the way we thought and spoke before the world of dentistry started crowding out our thinking with dental terms and industry jargon. This is why social skills are so important. These have little to do with talking, or having the “gift of gab.” They’re more about communicating with people – asking questions, listening, understanding, and having empathy and rapport.
Social skills are demonstrated when you ask questions and listen, when you understand different behaviour or communication styles, and when you adjust your style to fit other people’s styles. It’s the ability to understand the unspoken. To read body language. To pick up on voice tones, inflection, and facial expressions. It’s being able to intuitively crawl inside other people, then think and see the world as they do. It’s the willingness to listen to people without biases. To understand their viewpoint. To suspend your view of how things are and understand their beliefs and opinions. Excellent social skills help us jump on board other people’s trains of thought and ride with them as co-passengers. This is the stage on which the fullest scope of modern dental services can be delivered.
Selling really is a process of guiding people towards self discovery and hope. It’s a process of engaging a person’s heart and imagination towards something that does not yet exist in their lives. Selling is best achieved by listening to people. In fact, listening is the greatest skill you can use for strengthening your communication excellence. It is also the greatest tool we have for releasing potential in others. This talent can save a marriage, make you a better negotiator, heal a damaged friendship, increase your sales, or strengthen your leadership and team unity. It has been said that the greatest need of the human soul is the need to feel heard and understood. Give the gift of “High Level Listening” to your patients on a daily basis and you will in fact be strengthening your ability to sell by leading them towards great decisions that will add to the quality of their lives. One of the easiest ways to distinguish the difference between an effective treatment coordinator or dentist and one who needs more skills development is to watch how that person interacts with the patient. When he or she does all or most of the talking, it’s likely acceptance of treatment will either be delayed (I need more information, I want to think about it, etc.) or denied completely. People really don’t care how much you know or what you can do until you show how much you care. Patients don’t like “product dump” speeches. When they sense one coming on they will tend to tune you out.
The next time you discuss treatment options with a patient ask yourself the following four questions
Whose dental condition/opportunity is it?
Who’s recognizing the condition/ opportunity?
Who wants to treat it?
Who’s accepted all potential treatment outcomes?
If the answer to any of these questions is you, and not the patient, then we do not have patient involvement. No one can force health on a patient, it has to be desired – a goal. No one can force a patient to show up for appointments. They show up for appointments that they want and they alsoBARRY show more appreciation for treatment they choose. The process of patient involvement is called co-diagnosis. Co-diagnosis is the development of a partnership. It’s the act of assisting patients to “discover” themselves and participate in the diagnosis. People really are interested in themselves. Our job is to help them to discover themselves and any potential problems/opportunities. It’s the patient’s job to decide what level of health and wellness they choose for themselves. We dental professionals spend an awful lot of time trying to convince people to have their dentistry done. We are excited about all the options that we can provide. But we fail to realize that before we can get the patients enthusiasm, we must first help them develop their desire for the services. Patients will only agree to services they want (not need). The Greek philosopher Socrates talked about the use of questions to guide people towards developing ideas and conclusions in their own mind. By leading people through a series of focus questions we facilitate their “ah ha” moments but they take ownership of their breakthrough thoughts. Do you lead your patients through a process of self discovery that lets you highlight the range of possibilities available to them – possibilities that they would not have identified without you?
The following are 10 tips we can use to strengthen our case presentation skills and increase case acceptance
View the patient as an ally and adopt a healthy view of selling
Listen twice as much as you speak
Take notes during the presentation
Make a comprehensive chart including information regarding the unique life circumstances, views, and emotional desires of the person attached to the teeth
Begin creating an ongoing list of deep probing open ended questions
Take the time to connect on a personal level with your patients
Identify their needs 8. Fit the dentistry into their needs
Don’t sell raw dentistry (products and procedures)
Communicate beyond this; to the quality of life impact (features and benefits) the dentistry will have on their lives
Your values and attitudes are projected to patients. Be open and honest and they will trust you
At the end of the day it comes down to this, we are all born as human beings not as customers or patients. We are all people – our patients are not customers, they are people. Without people we have nothing, but with people we have something bigger than dentistry. By embracing the human condition we can change our language and the patients overall perception of us and what we have to offer. We can all boost our case presentation skills and enhance case acceptance by learning to more effectively communicate in our patient’s language. Dentistry is a helping profession and “sales” is a helping process. By altering our thinking and approach slightly we can easily shift the focus from “Us” and the procedures we sell to “The Customer” and the quality of life impact our services will have on their lives. This shift in thinking will enable us to communicate with our patients in a more buyer-based, service-focused and solution driven way, and we will bring honour and dignity to this whole concept of selling within the profession dentistry.
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The 21st century is such an amazing time to be in our wonderful profession. From a technical standpoint we’ve got better diagnostic tools, better materials, and greater clinical and theoretical knowledge. Today we are a much more experienced profession with diversely trained clinicians.
Compare this to how society saw us just 25 years ago when the services patients expected to receive could be grouped into one of 5 most common categories — drill, fill, pull, dentures, cleaning. In those days, the use of dentistry generally occurred when someone was experiencing a problematic dental condition that he or she could no longer ignore or live with.
The interaction in the office tended to be very generic, subservient and somewhat routine: Patients walked into the office clutching their wallets tightly while waving the almighty insurance booklet in the air. “Here’s my problem, Doc, what is the minimal thing you can do to fix it that will be covered by my insurance? And could you please keep the pain down to a minimum?”
This preamble was usually followed by the patient reluctantly passing the baton to the dental practitioners, at which point we proceeded to put the patient through a very clinical and somewhat routine system of diagnoses and treatment delivery. It was a very technical, unemotional and generic process that locked dentistry into an insensitive, disconnected and reparative image.
The good news today is dentistry is undergoing a major transformation in the way we do business and serve our patients. The entire dental community — including labs, distributors, manufactures and service companies — are one by one repackaging (re-branding) their products and services into a more customer friendly, human touch experience. Today, we live in a service-based economy. Business begins and ends with people. The average dental consumer expects quality and service delivered in an honest, caring and compassionate environment.
When people make a decision to accept your dental care they are actually making a decision to accept you. “You” the person, not “you” the dentist. The patient’s relationship with you and your entire team is the most important element in a successful practice.
Patients are committed to us, not to our facilities, our clinical procedures, or our instruments. The difference between good dentistry and great dentistry will never be as clear to them or impress them as much as a good relationship with you will.
Their commitment to your business will primarily be based on how you make them feel while they are in your presence receiving your care. Simply put, people may forget what you said and what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel and this memory will linger long after they have forgotten which tooth you crowned.
Let’s face it, as people and as dental patients it is our basic human nature to want to feel genuinely respected and cared for, especially when it comes to placing our health and quality of life in the hands of professionals. The challenge for our profession is that with all the technical learning and training dentists receive, something begins to get lost and fade away. While vigorously pursuing clinical excellence, is it possible that we begin losing sight of the person attached to the teeth? Is it possible our clinical focus has diminished our human connection and relationship skills?
After years of coaching (consulting) dental teams and individual clinicians, it is my experience that our communication can very often appear cold and disconnected to people because it is delivered in a very technical manner devoid of emotion and humanity.
As a profession, if we are to succeed in altering the old-school negative paradigms society holds about dentistry then we must begin to look beyond the instruments we are holding in our hands.
In our hands, we are in fact holding the life and feelings of the person attached to the teeth. Patients are filtering all decisions they make through their feelings and personal life circumstances. The time we take to build strong personal relationships with our patients will have a huge impact on our overall ability tosell the full scope of our services.
Relationships strengthen your likeability and likeability leads to case acceptance. If I like you and show you that I do, you’re going to have a tendency to like me in return. If you like me, you will have a tendency to trust me. If you trust me, you’ll have a tendency to believe the things I say. And if you believe the things I say, you’ll have a greater tendency to accept my treatment advice. Likeability leads to case acceptance and likeability can only be developed by building strong personal relationships with each one of our patients. A people-centered business feels and sounds much different from the traditional, generic, transaction-oriented business.
We should all take a closer look at our own practice to explore where we stand in our human relations effectiveness. Are you merely processing your patients through a series of generic transactions or are you taking the time to get to know your customers, their beliefs, their desires and their fears? Two people can only achieve a strong relationship by reaching beyond the boundaries they usually maintain between themselves and strangers. When we reach out to patients we begin delivering a more connected, caring experience.
Our ability to reach out is driven by our attitudes or what we focus on. As the saying goes, “our eyes cannot see what our mind has not taught us to recognize.” If we focus on dentistry, we will not see people, and our patients will not feel connected to us nor will they be as inspired by our ideas of how we can help them. But if you focus on people, in subtle, powerful and unseen ways your inner attitude will create patterns of behavior and communication that are very powerful in influencing and inspiring people.
This adjustment of focus is not really that difficult. For many, it is merely a matter of genuinely reconnecting with your authentic nondental self, which is the way you thought and saw things before the world of dentistry started crowding out your thinking. There is a buzz word being used today to describe what we are talking about, it is called “emotional intelligence” (EI). In our highly technological world, raising our emotional intelligence is becoming more and more important so as to not dehumanize the value of dentistry. Human talk, not dental jargon, is the language your patients will understand and feel inspired by most.
The success of a dental practice, like any business, is directly related to customer loyalty and loyalty is derived from relationships of trust, respect and connection. This kind of loyalty can only happen with employees who are passionately dedicated to developing genuine human connections with people
Patients come into the practice with a suitcase full of everything that is going on in their lives. Our job is to fit the dentistry into their suitcase not into their mouths. We must find the patients’ hearts before searching for their teeth. If all you have is a hammer, then everything will look like a nail. Similarly, in dentistry, if all you see is your repertoire of skills then every patient will look like a tooth and your case presentation will sound very technical with low “emotional appeal” to the patient.
The following is a list of things we can do to strengthen our personal connection and overall ability to lead our patients.
Before seeing your next patient, take a brief moment to clear any clutter from your heart and mind.
When scheduling procedures always factor “patient connection time” into your estimated appointment length (reconnect with your patient on a personal level).
Relationship building is a twoway process, which means that it’s all right to share personal stories that enable patients to get to know who you are as a person.
Be genuinely curious and interested in patients, and avoid insincere dialogues (baby talk, overly sweet niceness, counterfeit sincerity, superficial pleasantries, etc.).
Listen to your patients: if they are quiet, guide them by asking insightful questions then listen with your heart, your mind and your ears.
At the end of each patient visit briefly ask yourself, “How connected was my last patient to me?” To find the answer, look into your own heart: “As connected as I felt to them and not much more.” Patients can feel our sincerity and this will be mirrored back to us through their feelings.
“Customer relations” is the main area where we can shine in our patient’s hearts, thereby cultivating intense loyalty. It is the new yard stick that will differentiate us in our patients’ hearts. Remember, no two practices can be virtually identical in the people they attract, the work they inspire, the information they pass on or the emotions and feelings they create. It is impossible! Human beings are too different and their interactions in different environments only magnify those differences. We all have walked into a company and immediately detected these forces at work.
Passion, energy, caring and optimism in a dynamic service company — all these qualities are palpable within the first 15 seconds of entering the reception room. You can read the DNA of a company from the receptionist and discover it replicated throughout the company. Dentistry is no different. You must believe you are worth more to your clients than what you sell.
Remember, we are not in the dentistry profession serving people; we are in the people business providing dentistry. Your dentistry gets you into a game where relationships win. Grow your business one relationship at a time.