« 18. Dental chair conversations: EQ skills 1-5 »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute.

Being a dentist means that you are in the firing line of a whole range of emotions from your dental patients and staff. This is why you need good levels of emotional intelligence to cope with the stresses and strains this places on you and your career.

Emotions have a significant impact on communication. What you say and how you say it can have an emotional impact on the people to whom you are talking. 

For example:

  • If you have an anxious patient, for example, how you speak to her can help to calm her down or to increase her anxiety.
  • If a patient is resentful of the fees charged, how you deal with this and what you say can increase her resentment or ease it.
  • If you have a new patient who hasn't met you before, how you speak to her and what you say can help to build trust between you or to put her off returning to your practice.

Emotional intelligence impacts on your communication skills. This article will therefore focus on ways to communicate with your dental patients while they are in the dental chair, and in an emotionally intelligent way.

A second article considers: Dental chair conversations: EQ skills 6-10.

A third article covers an additional set of emotional intelligence tips for dentists: Dentists: 5 tips for high emotional intelligence.

EQ skills 1: Ask your patients

One way of communication does not fit all. Not all patients are the same. 

While some patients may like you to talk with them or with the dental nurse, others may prefer peace and quiet or to watch a TV.

If you like to talk it may suit you but not your patients. So adapt.

It's too hard to guess who likes what - it is easy to ask. Try it! Ask your patients what is the best way to help them relax and talk with them.

I could tell you what helps me. So can some of your patients.

If you communicate with me in the way that I most like, you are making emotionally intelligent moves in managing my emotions. I left one dentist because I could not stand the way she and her dental nurse talked continually throughout any work I had done. I longed for peace and quiet. Don't make the same mistake - ask.

EQ skills 2: Do not ask questions while their mouths are full

How infuriating it can be to have your mouth full of instruments and then to have your dentist try to engage you in conversation.

Do not ask questions while their mouth is full, wait until there is a pause.

If you must ask, make sure it's a yes/no question they can nod or shake their heads to. This is emotionally intelligent. When you choose to communicate consider first the reaction you may provoke. Manage your patient's emotions in a thoughtful way.

EQ skills 3: Include the patient in the conversation

While tip 2 suggests you may wait before asking your patient questions, at the same time you don't want to leave them feeling ignored. This means that if you and the dental nurse or therapist are chatting, in some way you may still include the patient in the conversation.

Don't exclude your patient by only talking between yourself and your dental therapist or nurse.

For example, you could say, "I was noticing your lovely trousers Rachel, as I went shopping for clothes over Christmas and ...". This includes the patient but doesn't require her to answer.

This means she is left feeling included, but not awkward trying to speak. This is good management of her emotions - and emotionally intelligent.

EQ skills 4: Go quiet every now and then

Introverts, in particular, like to have peace and quiet in order to hear themselves think, or to reflect on what is happening, or simply to relax.

Let there be peace and quiet so your introverted patients can draw together their thoughts, but also for you to check in and focus 100% on the patient.

Pause to check in with the patient, pause to concentrate, pause to care.

Non-verbal communication matters in the dentist's chair and silence is one form of that. It is only when you pause that you may notice how your patient is feeling.

Being able to read other people is an important competency in emotional intelligence, but you often need to take time to be able to do it accurately. It can be easy to miss some of the fleeting emotional signals while you are concentrating on a tooth.

EQ skills 5: Choose relaxing topics

Choose neutral, relaxing topics to talk about, and don't be sexist, racist, ageist, or any other ... ist.

I have been surprised by what I have heard spoken about between dentists and their nurses.

War, nuclear powered warships, murders, road accidents, the crime rate and similar topics do not rate for me as relaxing topics.

The weather, (unless its a farmer experiencing drought), shops, cinema, TV, gardening, sport (unless their favourite team has just lost the grand final), hobbies, concerts, holidays, and so on, are generally safer. Do take into account the economic standing of the person in your chair though; they may resent hearing about your BMW, if they have little spare money.

Take your patient's emotions into account when choosing your conversation topics. What you do, say and talk about has an emotional impact - this is why you need emotional intelligence and not just technical skill as a dentist.

Develop your team's EQ skills, now

There is so much more that you and your team can do to develop your emotional intelligence and conversation skills in your dental practice. The Institute has a number of options to help you:
  1. There are CDs, books and DVDs. The DVD "Business Networking: The skills you need" and "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions" are ideal for dental teams. 
  2. There is a series of advanced emotional intelligence master-classes. Of great value to your dental team is: "Positivity Resonance for high EI leaders". 
  3. There are high energy, interactive and practical emotional intelligence workshops. There are several of value in dentistry including: "Networking skills: Meet, speak and exit well" and "How to keep your cool with difficult people". 
  4. There is a dynamic keynote speech on networking and conversation skills: "Easy meet: Sizzling networking success" which will get your conference, seminar or event buzzing.
  5. There is 1-1 emotional intelligence coaching for dentists and practice managers.

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us and we will discuss your options with you.

Develop your emotional intelligence now and build your dental practice.