Dental Office Communication 101

For a society that has more ways than ever before to communicate with one another, it sure feels like our ability to do so effectively has truly gone down the tubes.

Have you noticed this too, or am I the only weirdo that spots it happening all day long?

I took a communication class in college and found it fascinating. I think about that class and some of the nuggets I learned there quite often. Communicating properly is a LEARNED skill and I wish they would start teaching it in kindergarten. Sometimes I think that the only thing schools should teach from kindergarten to 8th grade is communication, reading, and basic math. It kills me how many grown adults don’t know what 10% of 100 is! Don’t even get me started on reading comprehension…but I digress…

Communicating doesn’t just include what you say to someone, it also includes how you listen to someone else and how you manage that information. It is NOT a passive activity. It doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes TRUE effort. Too many people aren’t making the effort these days.

Here’s an experiment I’d like to try. I’d like to gather 100 people in a room and dictate one sentence for them to immediately write down. I’d choose, “The cat fell down from the tree branch.” I bet that I would NOT get 100 of that exact sentence written down. I bet someone would write, “The kitten slid down the tree”, or “The cat jumped off the branch”. I also bet that someone would lose his pencil and paper and would spend 10 minutes asking his neighbors for help. I’m fairly certain that if I said the sentence and then asked them to write it down 10 minutes later then even less people would get it right.
I’ve learned that simple tasks are never really that simple.
Time for some of those nuggets I learned in college.

Nugget #1. When someone is speaking to you, do NOT use that time to think about other things. When someone is speaking, focus on THEIR words. Do NOT think about what you have to do later on that day, or anything else that will distract you. Don’t look at your phone or open your mail. It’s rude AND you cannot multitask as well as you think you can. You are not communicating properly if you are thinking about anything else whilst someone else is talking. You greatly lower your ability to remember what that person is saying when you are thinking about something else, so QUIT doing that!

Here’s what happens a lot around here.

Me: Ok, Mrs. Smith, let’s reserve a time for your next checkup.
Mrs. Smith: Sure.
Me: Would you like another Monday morning again?
Mrs. Smith: Yes, please.
Me: Ok, how about the January 14th?
Mrs. Smith: Ok-what day is that?
Me: Monday.

Sigh. I don’t get it. I really don’t. When I speak, I always speak with a purpose and I make sure to enunciate properly. I look the patient in the eye and am not distracted. I try SO hard to make it as easy on them as possible, but it takes two to tango and I feel like I’m dancing alone.

Nugget #2. Don’t put your own spin on things and PLEASE don’t assume. This happened to me recently and it drove me crazy. We had a worker at the house and I told him that he could go inside the house even when we weren’t home. Here’s how the conversation went.

Worker: I’m sure you don’t want me in the house if you aren’t home.
Me: We know you and don’t mind. I can leave the house unlocked. If you arrive at 8am, it’s not a problem. Just lock it when you leave.
Worker: I can just come back when you are home to do it.
Me: No, it’s ok. I don’t mind and it will be easier for you to do when we aren’t home.
Worker: (Talking over me.) Are you going to be home at 5? I can just come by after work on Thursday.
Me: That won’t work for me. It’s fine to just come in the morning.

That kind of conversation really bugs me. He THOUGHT he was helping me out, but he wasn’t listening to my words. I truly wanted him to come in the morning, but he wasn’t getting it. We needlessly went round and round and I was ready to scream. Don’t project your past experiences on every current situation. Maybe this worker dealt with a homeowner who didn’t want him in his house alone, but I didn’t care!

Nugget #3. Pause and breathe. When someone asks you a question, it’s ok to pause for a few seconds and breathe. Those few seconds give you the time to gather an answer. You don’t HAVE to respond the second someone finishes talking. Give yourself a chance to offer a thoughtful and proper answer.

Nugget #4. Answer the question being asked. There are some people in this world that I go OUT of my way to NOT talk to because they cannot give me a clear and simple answer.
Me: What time do you have to leave here today?
Jeff: Yeah, I have to go to see my mom. She needs help moving.
Me: Ok, what time do you need to leave?
Jeff: I hope it’s not going to take too long because I have to get home in time to take the kids to karate class and then make dinner afterwards. Karate starts at 6:30 tonight.
Me: Gotcha, but what time do you have to leave to do that?

We all know people like this. Maybe some of you are even guilty of this very thing. Be aware of WHAT you are being asked and get to the point!!

I am by no means a communications expert, but I’d like to think that I treat it as an ACTIVE and not PASSIVE activity. Dental office communication is especially critical because you have to make sure your patients are receiving the proper messages.

What about you? Do you have any nuggets that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

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