Communicating With Confidence and Power
Dentistry is more than perfecting function and aesthetics; it is also about perfecting communication. When exploring words that will say exactly what we mean to say, we are limited by our own vocabulary. The mind searches for the convincing phrase, the words with the right amount of panache and exactitude to deliver the message that motivates people to act.
“If only I had thought to say… it may have made a difference in the outcome of the communication.”
Despite Barbara Walters’ quip “…many people think that polysyllables are a sign of intelligence,” big words do not always impress people.
Big words and dental jargon can leave your patients wondering “what did she/he say?” It is not just the dental jargon that can leave your patients somewhere between the chair and the door but it is the manner or tone in which the words are delivered. The “hedge” in your voice, the vague and puny “as soon as possible” or “we will watch it” only gives the patient a message of unimportance. A combination of not understanding what was said and a missing call for action equals a patient walking out the door without an appointment. From scheduling the initial appointment to the treatment presentation, words are the keys to doing dentistry.
A core value of the Treatment Acceptance Course at McKenzie Management is verbal and non verbal communication when presenting treatment options to patients. Vocal tone, grammar, pitch, body language, gestures, power words and phrases are only the beginning in building on powerful communication skills. For example, a dentist who was starting a new practice called me about a patient that left his office in a “huff” over something he had said. He went over every word that he remembered to find the culprit word or phrase, but came up clueless as to the answer. Later on in the day, he called me to say that he talked to the patient about what happened. While doing the diagnosis, he had made reference to the patients’ “difficult mouth access” to his dental assistant in a derogatory tone. The patient thought that he was telling the dental assistant that she was “a difficult patient.” Dental jargon may be correct to those that are in the business of dentistry, but it takes on a different meaning to those that are outside the profession.
Let’s look at “hedge” words and how a patient is led to believe that the treatment is not a priority or doesn’t need to be done until something breaks or they feel pain. Some hedge words are: let’s watch it, basically, I think, I feel, in my opinion, to be perfectly honest, etc. Certainly there are some situations where waiting for further symptoms would be benign and by postponing treatment the patient will be able to put money aside to pay for the treatment at a future date. In this situation, the patient is given a timeline and a date of repair of the tooth. If real uncertainty forces you to hedge, then use stronger hedge words such as: it should, I plan, apparently, research demonstrates, it appears, approximately etc. In communicating the need for a crown, for instance, one might say, “I feel that a crown on the upper right tooth needs to be done as soon as possible. In my opinion a gold crown is the best choice …when you are ready…..” This demonstrates hedging because the importance of having the crown done is vague and causes uncertainty. Instead one would say, “A crown on the upper right tooth is necessary at this time. I plan to use gold because it is the best material for this location in your mouth.” Wait for a response. Fewer words and call to action words will invite the patient to become involved with the diagnosis.
Technology continues to bring to our dental chairs amazing digital radiography, surgical microscopes, intra-oral photos, video morphing, etc. However, demonstrating the need for dentistry through marvelous technology has not replaced the spoken word and the power of verbal communication. Want to be a better communicator? Sign up today for one of our Advanced Training Programs including the Treatment Acceptance Course mentioned in my article.
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