Vital Interactions

vital-interactions-thumbOriginally Published in CARDP Journal
written by Peter Barry

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The Chemistry of a Championship Dental Team


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.

  1. Ask yourself, what meaning have I attached to this … could this mean something else?
  2. Ask the person for their help.
  3. Ask the person for permission to discuss your concerns with them.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.”
  6. Ask them to help you understand and solve this situation.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. If specific resolution is required continue on by making a win-win behaviour modification agreement.
    1. Define the heart/root of the problem not the surface
    2. Brainstorm ideas c. Eliminate ideas either party feels won’t work
    3. Clarify remaining ideas e. Iron out details … who/when/what/where/how f. Evaluation … revisit this in the future
  10. Thank each other for caring enough to give feedback and to listen and understand each other.

Example/Sample Process

  1. 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?
  2. Them: I’m sorry that is not my intention…I don’t mean_______. I do that because________. I didn’t realize__________.
  3. You and Them: Walk away understanding each other better or discuss and resolve follow up behavioural modifications required to improve things for both parties.
  4. Them: ”Thanks for letting me know.”
  5. You: “Thanks for listening!”

Now let’s look at 17 very powerful general guidelines for dealing more positively with a co-worker issue.

  1. Speak only to that person and discuss issues privately, not publicly.
  2. Address issues as soon as possible.
  3. Do not address issues while either person is in an emotionally charged state.
  4. Communicate your concerns openly and honestly without sugar-coating or nursing a silent personal agenda.
  5. Avoid being defensive. “LISTEN” to each other and acknowledge each other’s views even if you don’t agree.
  6. 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.
  7. Speak to one issue at a time. Don’t overload the person.
  8. Deal only with actions the person can change − asking the impossible only builds frustration into your relationship.
  9. 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.
  10. Avoid playing “gotcha” type games.
  11. Avoid generalizations like “ALWAYS/NEVER.” They usually detract from accuracy and make people defensive.
  12. Present criticisms as suggestions or questions if possible.
  13. Don’t forget the complements.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.


  1. Harper G. (2004). The Joy of Conflict Resolution. Gabriola Island: BC: New Society Publishers
  2. Alessandra T, O’Connor MJ,Van Dyke J. (1995). People Smarts. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.
  3. Sanders T. (2005). The Likeability Factor. New York: Random House.
  4. O’Neill M. Transform Stress & Conflict into Growth & Change. (Audio CD). Available at: audio-seminar-series.html.
  5. Goleman D. (1998).Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
  6. Goleman D. (2007).Social Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books
  7. Shapiro S, Schefdore R. Better Service Better Income Better Dentistry.
  8. Homoly P.(2006). Making it Easy for Patients to Say Yes. Charlotte, NC: Author.
  9. Lund P. (1997). Building the Happiness Centred Business. Brisbane, Australia: Solutions Press.
  10. Jameson C. (1999). Great Communication Equals Great Production, 2nd Ed. Tulsa, OK: Penn Well Publishing.

The Power of Listening


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.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work Pt.I

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Schedule a full team meeting.
  3. Each member of the team presents their list to the group.
  4. Enter into a group discussion and consolidate each team members ideas into one comprehensive master list.
  5. 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…
  6. 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.
  7. At the next meeting each team member presents their list to the group.
  8. Enter into a group discussion and consolidate each team members ideas into one comprehensive master list.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.


Death of a “Salesman” Birth of a “Helping Professional”

salesman-thumbOriginally Published in CARDP Journal
written by Peter Barry

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People Love to “Buy” but Hate to be “Sold” to


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

  1. Whose dental condition/opportunity is it?
  2. Who’s recognizing the condition/ opportunity?
  3. Who wants to treat it?
  4. 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

  1. View the patient as an ally and adopt a healthy view of selling
  2. Listen twice as much as you speak
  3. Take notes during the presentation
  4. Make a comprehensive chart including information regarding the unique life circumstances, views, and emotional desires of the person attached to the teeth
  5. Begin creating an ongoing list of deep probing open ended questions
  6. Take the time to connect on a personal level with your patients
  7. Identify their needs 8. Fit the dentistry into their needs
  8. Don’t sell raw dentistry (products and procedures)
  9. Communicate beyond this; to the quality of life impact (features and benefits) the dentistry will have on their lives
  10. 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.

Beckwith H. 1997. Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing. New York: Warner Books.
Beckwith H. 2003.What Clients Love: A Field Guide to Growing Your Business. New York:Warner Books.
Goleman D. 1998.Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Homoly P. Making it Easy for Patients to Say Yes. Charlotte, NC: Author
Lund P. Building the Happiness Centred Business. Brisbane, Australia: Solutions Press.
Jameson C. Great Communication Equals Great Production, 2nd Ed. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Publishing.
Pine BJ, Gilmore JH. 1999. The Experience Economy:Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. Boston, MA:Harvard University Press.
Sanders T. The Likeability Factor.
Shapiro S, Schefdore R.Better Service Better Income Better Dentistry.

Riding the Wave of Change


What got you HERE won’t get you THERE!

In Part One (DPM, Spring, 2009) of this three part series we examined the amazing power and impact that connecting with your patients on a deeper level can have on your business. In Part Two (DPM, Summer 2009) we explored the theory of “value creation” as it relates to the historically frowned upon concept of “selling” in dentistry. Now, in Part Three, we will move on to discussing arguably one of the most impactful variables that determines the “Success” of a dental office. First, let’s outline exactly what “success” really means. When I say “success” I’m referring to much more than just “financial reward!” I can never forget what a new client recently told me while we were examining his production numbers; he said; “Peter; don’t focus too much on our numbers, because they are not a reflection of the chaos that it took to produce them, we are stressed, stretched and working way too hard to achieve these results.” Although his office was very profitable; in his heart he did not feel an authentic sense of business success. True business success consists of four components each of which must be present in order for us to feel a well-rounded sense of professional fulfillment in our workplace.

The most successful dental practice will:

  • be profitable;
  • it will have minimal complexity in its operational routines;
  • team members will feel a purposeful sense of fulfillment
  • and your customers will show a fulfilling appreciation for the care and experience you provide them.

There is one primary talent that impacts an organization’s ability to achieve all four of these success variables. That talent is the team’s ability to innovate or re-invent.

Human beings are creatures of habit. As a result our first instinct is to find our greatest comfort and safety in the familiarity of the known. This causes team members to want to hold on to familiar routines and procedures at work. At the same time we have a somewhat conflicting emotional need for variety and uncertainty in order to feel a passionate sense of excitement and stimulation in our lives. The first instinct is necessary for survival in the wild animal kingdom. Unfortunately, it has little use for us in the business world. In fact its presence although prevalent in the workplace is quite counter productive. This primal characteristic is why so many offices today find themselves stuck and unable to mobilize the critical mass of people required to implement something new, better or different within their practice.

Any sign of resistance to change in the workplace should be seen as nothing more than a primal, instinctive self-preservation mechanism

I am reminded of a saying I heard many years ago… “The very successes that got us where we are today will eventually become the shackles that imprison us from further growth in the future.” Even your good habits will eventually imprison you if you hold on to them for too long! To break free of our habits we must develop the new habit of leaving the familiar behind. We must separate ourselves emotionally and psychologically from our stagnant circumstances. Our ability to establish a satisfying and integrated business lifestyle in a world of continual change requires that every member of our team develop the skill of “normalizing the new.” If you want to get to second base you must leave something behind by taking your foot off first base. In his book, “If It Aint Broke Break It” Robert Kreigel states it this way “in the face of accelerating change in every area of our lives, the conventional thinking that guided us in decades past is outdated. It is now clear that conventional wisdom that worked in the calm seas of the past won’t work in today’s turbulent rabidly changing environment.”

Experienced dental teams who hold onto outdated systems, approaches, and philosophies will tend to run into more and more roadblocks as time goes on. Simply put; if the ice is melting and you’ve still got your skates on you will become less and less effective and more and more frustrated over time.

We live in a rapidly changing world where countless manifestations of technology pervade our business community. These changes significantly affect the social, economic and cultural outlooks of dental consumers. Success in the 21st century business environment requires the ability to collaborate innovatively and creatively with others.

If we are to thrive in the 21st century, then it will be up to the entire team to keep up with the subtle yet collectively impactful changes that are occurring on the landscape of our wonderful profession. In fact any sign of resistance to change in the workplace should be seen as nothing more than a primal instinctive self preservation mechanism that helps people to protect and justify their existing ways of doing things. Resisting change is like driving your car but insisting on using (looking into) your rearview mirror to steer it. This approach is can be dangerous in business and in life because it renders you out of control since you are not acting in accordance with the realities of the changing terrain ahead of you.

The solution to this is simple! We must develop internal muscles to counter the forces of our instinctive psychology. Unfortunately many dental teams today are not skilled in being able to break free of these gravitational systems. This is because the gravitation is not outside of us. It’s inside of us and consists of our ideas, beliefs, experiences and the whole habitual way we go about to constructing our work day. As a team we have to become strong enough to go against our own belief systems and habits. We also have to become strong enough to go against other peoples belief systems and their habits.

Choose the continuous path of creative re-invention and innovation and you will experience the full joy of your chosen profession

This phenomenon is described clearly in the parable about “The Boiling Frog Syndrome.” The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote tale describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed into hot water, it will jump out instinctively and immediately, but if it is placed in cold water and allowed to swim around and get comfortable in its environment then as the water is slowly heated, the frog not sensing any sudden change in its environment will not perceive the subtle but increasing danger and it will keep accepting its minor inconveniences (increased heat) until it is cooked to death. This story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to important changes that occur gradually in their personal or professional lives.

The following are simple but effective tools you can use for keeping your practice un-stuck and on the cusp of innovation…

  • Have monthly creativity brainstorming meetings;
  • Prior to team meetings have one team member research an innovative idea. Then present it at the team meeting. Discuss, customize and implement it;
  • Attend courses and implement new ideas;
  • Read journals and implement new ideas;
  • Re-invent new ways of doing things that are already working well in your practice;
  • Poll your customers to find out how they are thinking, feeling and changing;
  • Adopt a business philosophy of never being satisfied with the status-quo;
  • Explore new ideas with curiosity… and not through your defensive self preservation mechanisms;
  • Modernize the look and feel of your practice decor;
  • Be technically proficient and be able to offer the most up-to-date clinical services;
  • Find a mentor and consider becoming a mentor (teaching others is the highest form of learning);
  • Become involved in a study club group and learn about other peoples approach to practicing dentistry

Many of us find change difficult, so we drag our feet or avoid it at all costs. In order to embrace change, you must change the way you look at change. Move away from the panic and fear that grips you. Change is an opportunity to create something new for you and your practice so that your life becomes more fulfilling.

In your dental office, if you are the owner; you are also the CEO. You are in charge of running the practice and making sure everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen. In most other industries, and certainly with big companies, CEOs change from time to time. A new CEO brings a fresh way of looking at the business, a new way of dealing with customers, and certainly uses his or her past successes and experiences for the benefit of the new company. However if you are the CEO of your dental business you probably aren’t going to a new practice any time soon. The only way to clear your eyes and keep your dental offices fresh with new ideas is to follow the above 12 steps and tap into the collective wisdom of each member of your team; especially your newest team members who most likely have the freshest viewpoints!

Keep exploring your horizons and remember this saying “the future belongs to the learners while the learned will inherit a world that no longer exists.” In the words of the great Martin Luther King “we stand here today at the beginning of time free to pursue what ever path we choose for our future!” Choose the continuous path of creative re-invention and innovation and you will experience the full joy of your chosen profession and finally but most importantly remember that “what got you here; won’t get you there!”