20. Dentists: 5 tips for high emotional intelligence

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

Most people want to go to a dentist who has high levels of emotional intelligence. Why? Because however skilled a dentist you are, you're not just dealing with teeth but with people in an emotionally tense situation.  

Every time patients walk in the door or sit in your chair they bring their emotions with them. Anxiety, worry, fear, apprehension, distress, discomfort, agitation, irritation and resentment are just some of the emotions that your patients may be feeling.  

Being able to manage other people's emotions is all part of having high levels of emotional intelligence. When you manage your patients' emotions well, AND get good results with their teeth, patients are likely to leave feeling more impressed than if you only fixed their teeth. When patients leave feeling impressed you are more likely to get their repeat business.  

In addition, when you use your emotional intelligence to lessen their fears and concerns so that they leave feeling relaxed, they are more likely to recommend you to others. Many people are scared of going to the dentist, so when they hear of someone who feels relaxed after visiting one, they may seek out that dentist. This could be you. Word of mouth advertising is the best form of advertising for any dentist.  

And, it isn't just with patients that emotional intelligence can make a difference, it can also improve your ability to attract good staff and retain them.  

Finally, of course, your own emotions as a dentist are important. Dentistry can be a stressful career. The better able you are to use high levels of emotional intelligence to handle your own emotions the less stress and tension you'll have. 

It is clear there are many advantages to having high levels of emotional intelligence in a dental practice, but how do you go about being an emotionally intelligent dentist? Here are five tips for you that will help you build an even more successful practice. 

Emotional intelligence tip 1: Monitor your feelings

As the dentist you are a very important person. Your feelings will influence everyone else's feelings in your practice. Your feelings will influence the quality of the work you do, the decisions you make and your ability to interact with and build a positive relationship with your patients and staff.  

So the first thing for you to do is to know how you are feeling. By this I don't mean are you feeling some very strong emotion such as fury, depression or excitement but are you feeling wistful, dejected, uncomfortable, impatient, bored, mean, awkward, unsettled, concerned, wary, or of course, a more "positive" emotion?  

When you know how you are feeling you can be in more control of how you behave. When you do not know how you are feeling you are at the mercy of your emotions, as they will influence your performance in ways you will not even know. Research by Joseph Forgas, at the University NSW, has shown that thought and emotion are not separate, as we used to believe, and that feelings have a multifaceted influence on everything that we think or do.

Emotional intelligence tip 2: Be a mood manager

If you get out of bed one morning irritated and have to go to work, shift it. If you are feeling hassled as you start work on a patient, shift it. If you are down when you want to generate new ways to create business, shift it - the EI research shows positive emotions are conducive to creativity.  

Part of having high levels of emotional intelligence is being able to manage your own feelings, so you can put yourself in the best mood to achieve your goals.  

If you're miserable for instance, you might listen to some comedy while on the way into work. If you're anxious about the work ahead you might bring to mind a calming image of someone looking serene. If you are hassled you may focus on your breathing to help you relax.  

Manage your mood. Get in the best mood for the task you're doing. As a dentist your mood affects everyone in your practice: be in the best mood each day and every day.

Emotional intelligence tip 3: Look for the patient's feelings

When people are coming to a dentist they can experience a variety of feelings.

  • They may be scared that it will hurt.
  • They may feel regret that they didn't come for a check-up earlier.
  • They may be anxious about paying the bills.
  • They may be impatient to get it over with.
  • They may be relieved that the pain has gone.
  • They may be delighted with your service.  

Look for these feelings. Pay attention to them. Seek them out.  

They can help you know how to best manage, communicate with and relate to your patients. 

Emotional intelligence tip 4: Name their feelings

Help your patients and staff to feel cared for by demonstrating that you understand their feelings. Demonstrate to them that you know how they feel by naming their feelings.  

By this, I don't mean that you should say "I understand how you feel." There is no evidence in this statement that you understand anything.  

Instead name their feelings, e.g. "You sound anxious about having a needle", or "So you're feeling worried that it's going to cost a lot of money", or to the dental receptionist, "You feel stupid when I give a patient an appointment after you've said they have to wait."  

Prove you've understood. Then you can talk to them about how best to manage their feelings AND behaviour.  

Emotional intelligence tip 5: Manage the mood of the practice

Most dentists work under pressure, and so do their staff. Help your staff to stay buoyant at difficult or pressurised times. Help them to feel safe, cared for and motivated. Then they will be more productive.  

This doesn't mean insisting that everyone "be positive" or stand in front of the mirror saying "positive affirmations". Rather it means being open to the emotions of your staff, being able to acknowledge them, understand them, and accept them.  

It also means being able to use appropriate resources, strategies or support to help your staff move through the unproductive emotions, rather than ignoring the emotions or complaining about them. Dentists with high levels of emotional intelligence can feel comfortable with a range of feelings in their staff. Do you? 

High emotional intelligence skills - Your next steps

There is much you can do to apply high levels of emotional intelligence in your dental practice. I recommend you take a simple first step. Stop for one minute and ask yourself: 

  • "How am I feeling?"
  • "How is my patient feeling?"
  • "How is my staff member feeling?"

And then ask, 

  • "Do I need to do anything differently?"

Even in a busy dental practice there is time to do this simple step. 

The benefits of high emotional intelligence for dentists

Having high levels of emotional intelligence in your dental practice could take your practice to the next level without it costing you a cent.  

Develop your dental 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: "How to keep your cool with difficult people" and "How to be emotionally resilient and thrive".
  4. 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.

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