Imagine lying flat on your back with your eyes closed, being surrounded by loud noises, constantly having water and air sprayed in your mouth, and trying to breathe and stay calm although half of your face feels paralyzed and people are cramming in, closer and closer to your face. This is not the picture of serenity most of us would seek. In fact, being in a dental chair makes most people feel vulnerable, and vulnerability can easily manifest into fear and distrust.
The only way you will know how to take care of your patients is by understanding how they feel in that moment and knowing what is important to them. I’ve been in private practice for more than 16 years, and one of the most important things that I have learned to do, and still struggle with, is to stop talking and start listening. As dentists, when we hear patients say that they have a problem or an issue, we immediately start offering them solutions. We get so excited to help that most of the time, we’ll even interrupt the patient because we can’t wait to offer our advice. Even our team members do this. How many times have you heard someone on your team “educating” or “consulting” over the phone?
The enthusiasm to help is great, but we must remember it is all about the patient — the person. We cannot provide sound guidance without first understanding the person’s story and perspective. Let your patients talk, and you listen. Then, if there are things that don’t make sense to you, or if their story seems incomplete, ask them questions until you understand. This is also a great way to interview a patient. Maybe that person is not the right fit for your practice.
People don’t listen if they don’t feel like they are being listened to. When people feel that they are truly heard and understood, a connection immediately is created, and trust starts to build. Now, they are ready to listen because you did. Remember, patients call your office with the assumption that you already have the skill set and knowledge to take care of their dental needs. They are not there to interview you to see what bonding steps you take or what type of composite you believe in. They will select you if they feel a connection with you and your team. When you care about your patients, they feel it, your team feels it, and you feel it. Dentistry becomes about more than teeth; developing the partnership toward wellness becomes the mission. This synergy is what will keep your patients coming back, and not only will it bring and sustain financial success, but personal fulfillment as well. What matters more: How amazing your porcelain crown looked on No. 7, or how you helped that person and made him or her feel throughout a vulnerable and scary procedure? Are we treating procedures or people?
“First seek to understand, then be understood.” Start by just listening.