Academy of Dental Management Consultants Corner: 4 frequent blunders you make in conversation with your dental patients

Listening can often be one of the toughest things for any of us to do, inside or outside of the dental practice. When you are with a patient, are you guilty of one or more of these four frequent ABCD listening blunders?

Assumptions – When you assume in advance that you know what patients are going to say and you interrupt them, you are telling them (without words) that you know more than they do. Even though you think you know exactly where the patient is going, avoid the urge to blurt out your response before the patient can even finish a sentence. Interrupting effectively shuts the patient down. Listen first, speak after. Realize how much active listening affects the overall image of your practice.

Body Language – Ask yourself, “Am I really presenting a positive message with my body language? Am I making it comfortable for the patient to converse with me?” Communicate your empathy through nodding, smiling, keeping a relaxed, non-fidgety posture, and, most importantly, maintaining strong eye contact with your patient. Lean slightly forward, towards your patient, to give him or her the feeling that you are interested and that you are in emotional contact with him or her. Uncross your arms and legs. Making these changes might not be easy. Many of us are simply more comfortable having our arms or legs crossed. However, subconsciously, this gives another person the perception that you are closed to thoughts, that you may not be listening, or that you are uninterested.

Criticism and Comebacks – Mentally evaluating the speech pattern or dress or manner of a patient gets in the way of good listening. Listening is listening and nothing else. If you find yourself having a conversation about that patient in your head, you are no longer listening. When you are thinking of what you are going to say back to the patient, you are no longer listening. Concentrate on the content of the patient’s remarks, rather than on his or her method of delivery or appearance. When the patient finishes his or her statements, restate the patient’s concerns by saying “Mrs. Patient, from what I hear you saying, you are concerned about X.” Reflecting back what the patient said shows that you were truly listening.

Disturbances – While with a patient, non-emergency interruptions should be discouraged. Disturbances also come in the form of doing things while the patient is talking. In the clinical area, cleaning up instruments or setting up for the procedure while the patient is asking a question about care or sharing his or her concerns about the completed procedure disturbs your ability to effectively listen and then effectively communicate. If you are turned to the side facing a computer screen and typing things while your patients are asking questions or discussing their objections or needs, this type of disturbance tells the patient you are not totally listening. How can you listen and type at the same time? Listening is listening and nothing else.

Your patients who feel heard and understood will find it much easier to hear and understand your treatment plans, your financial presentations, and all of the important clinical and business communications that involve advancing their care. Listening is the most unused tool in your communications tool bag. Work on it, master it and you will find patients writing reviews about your practice that say, “They really care, they listened to me!”

Editor's Note: For more information on the Academy of Dental Management Consultants, please click here.