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4.11.08 Issue #318 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Read between the Lines: Using Nonverbal Communication to Increase Your Influence

Being a successful dental leader requires you to influence people just about all of the time. You need to persuade your patients and your employees to take action based on what you say. Being an effective influencer makes your job easier and your practice more profitable!

Influence is what happens between people; the vehicle for persuasion is communication. People communicate in a variety of patterns. Research shows that verbal communication—the actual words—accounts for approximately 10% of the message. This is the “surface” of communication. Below the words are the “nonverbals,” which science tells us account for nearly 90% of the real meaning in what is communicated.

 Humans are sensitive to things like body language, facial expression, posture, movement and tone of voice. We have the ability to communicate many emotions without saying a word. Is there ever any doubt in your mind about the mood of your employees when they walk into the office? Do you have the ability to get children to behave by simply giving them “the eye”?

More than words, nonverbal communication can tell you what’s really on another person’s mind. The old saying, "It's not what you say, it’s how you say it," underscores the importance of nonverbal communication and your credibility. Even on an intuitive level you know this to be true. Consider the idioms we use:

It’s not what you say but what you do.
A picture’s worth a thousand words.
Talk is cheap.
Actions speak louder than words.

Given the importance of nonverbal communication, it behooves you to learn to read between the lines to increase your influence on others. To deliver the full intention of your messages, use the following nonverbal behaviors to raise the impact of your communication.

  • Eye Contact. It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. By making eye contact, you show interest in the other person and you convey empathy and sincerity. 
  • Facial Expressions. When you smile, you convey approachability. Your employees and your patients will feel more comfortable around you and they will listen more attentively. Be careful, however, to avoid smiling when the message is serious.
  • Voice. The volume, rate, tone, pitch and inflections of your speech are major factors in communication. When you use a soft voice, you may be seen as lacking confidence. On the other hand, using a slower, quieter voice in stressful circumstances signals strength and control. A strong voice shows confidence. Yet in matters of disagreement, a booming voice often escalates the conflict.
  • Body Language. The way you stand, walk and move speaks volumes. If you are too fast-paced, you convey tension much more than efficiency. A relaxed, calm posture signals confidence and receptivity. Your posture also influences whether you are seen as competent. Slumped shoulders undermine credibility. Stiffness conveys nervousness. Unfold your arms and uncross your legs when engaged in important conversations.
  • Gestures. When gestures are natural and flow with your words, they enhance the impact of your message. But be careful of distracting gestures, like fiddling with pens and clothing, foot-tapping and fingernail clicking. These behaviors are seen as signals of discomfort. They show a lack of confidence and diminish your credibility.

The ability to influence others continues to be the single most important factor for effective leadership. Your practice success is directly related to your ability to win trust and gain respect through communication with your team and your patients. By aligning your verbal and nonverbal communication, you increase your power to influence. Just focus on improving one aspect of your nonverbal communication at a time. With consistent practice, you’ll feel more natural, and you’ll be more successful in leading your team and your patients.

McKenzie’s Advanced Leadership Training is designed to improve your communication with your team and your patients. For more information, email

Dr. Haller is available for team building and dental leadership coaching. She can be reached at

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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