No matter how advanced your clinical skills, if you do not know how to communicate effectively with your patients, your practice will suffer. Cultivating good communication skills is essential if you want to boost patient compliance, stimulate business growth, and achieve your dental practice goals. Remember, good communication is not simply about your ability to articulate your ideas. It’s about learning to identify and understand the needs of others. To do this you must learn to listen actively, with your ears, eyes, and intuition.
“Wait a minute, Dr. Deems,” you may be thinking. “Listen with my eyes? What is that supposed to mean?” We are physical creatures, and we often say more with our bodies than we do with our words. This is especially true in high-stress situations. Your nervous patient may not be talking about her extreme anxiety, but her body language may be screaming “I’m terrified!” That interviewee may seem the essence of assurance. However, that nervous finger tap when you asked about references may be an important clue about his suitability. When you learn to “listen” to these unspoken cues, your relationships with your team, patients, and your loved ones will improve.
Take this quick quiz to see how much you already know about the tricky business of body language:
- Which of the following is a sign of fear?
A. Flared nostrils
B. A tightened mouth
C. Dramatically raised eyebrows
D. A dropped jaw
- True or False: A gentle touch on the arm or a step towards someone can be a sign of warmth and concern.
- True or False: An exuberant presentation at a team meeting will be more effective than a staid, measured speech.
- If you see someone repeatedly touching his face, touching his hands, leaning away, and crossing his arms, this person is:
- True or False: If you are learning to improve your body language, you should tell your team about it.
Check Your Answers
- B. A tightened mouth: Even a patient with extreme self-control can be betrayed by his or her mouth movements. If you notice the corners of a patient’s mouth lower and tighten, use calming words, and ask if there is anything you can do to put your patient at ease. At the same time, do not draw attention to your patient’s trepidation, as he or she is clearly working hard to hide it.
- False: Dentists (and many other people) often think that getting physically close to someone is a friendly gesture. However, many people perceive this as passive aggressive. In some case, it can also suggest false friendship. To really make your patients feel at ease, respect their personal space and take a genuine interest in their needs and goals.
- False: Make your presentation interesting, to be sure, but keep expansive gestures and extreme pitch variations to a minimum. This will convey a subtlety and maturity that will more effectively earn your team’s respect.
- C. Dishonest: According to Forbes magazine and researchers at Northwestern University, when they occur together, these are the four unmistakable signs that someone is lying.
- True: When you let your team know about your new endeavor, they can provide honest feedback about whether or not it is working for you. It may even inspire your employees to learn more about body language and improve communication with your patients.