Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 02 Respect 1

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to dental assistants

March 20, 2018
What the ADAA president and this consultant hear often from dental assistants is how they do not feel respected in their practices. This needs to change, and they advise dental assistants how to "sock it to 'em."

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.

Last month, we tackled how dental assistants earn respect from their dentists. This time, we’ll tackle that same topic, but look at it from the counterpoint of the team. How does a dental assistant gain respect from his or her fellow team members?

As a dental assistant, I’ll look at the inside view. As a consultant and advocate for assistants, Kevin Henry of IgniteDA and editorial director for Dental Assisting Digest, will look at the outside view.


Respect from the inside looking out (Natalie's view)

I recently posed a question to the ADAA Facebook group about the shortage of dental assistants and what the reason for the shortage might be. Respect, or rather, lack of respect from other team members was frequently cited. Earning respect from the dental team is directly related to treating others with respect. Practicing respect sounds like a basic skill, and yet somehow complaints about being disrespected run rampant in practices. As a dental assistant, your ability to earn respect will impact your emotional happiness and, ultimately, your career path. Some team members believe they are entitled to respect simply due to their position or experience. This type of respect weakens over time and can eventually hurt the practice culture to the point where patients notice and seek care elsewhere.

Lack of respect can happen in any employment setting, not just in dentistry. Wherever there is a hierarchy of staff, feelings of disharmony often exist. I’m sure you’ve witnessed the familiar eye rolls, missed deadlines, skipped meetings, and gossiping behind people’s backs at some point in your career. These are just a few characteristics of an unhappy team member. Those in leadership positions in an office know them well. We hear about these attitude shifts from colleagues all the time. On the other hand, some team members walk into a room, and every eye and ear immediately turns to them. Are they superheroes in disguise? Maybe, but in reality, they’ve worked very hard over their careers to gain the respect of those who work with them.

Here are three simple tips

1. Know the rules and work hard

Office dynamics are often centered on those who play by the rules and those who do not. Many like to toe the line, and it’s fun at times to jump rope with this line. Do what is expected of you and share the praise as necessary. When everyone is giving 100%, give 110%. The extra effort will be noticed, but maybe not always acknowledged. People typically do not respect those who don’t respect the rules.

2. Listen more, talk less, and always assume the best

Teammates gain respect by actually listening to the ideas of those around them. This doesn't mean that you can't occasionally share your ideas, but it does mean that you need to pay attention to what others say. Remember, you were hired to do your job, and others were hired to do theirs. That may seem like common sense. However, in reality it means that other people are experts in areas outside of your area of expertise. Listen to what they say. In listening to your coworkers, you treat them with respect. This creates respect for you and what you have to say. Everyone in the office has deadlines and priorities that may differ from yours. Just because you don't understand why something happens doesn't mean there isn’t a valid reason.

3. Constructive criticism, assertiveness, and empowerment

Having people respect you is a two-way street that doesn’t depend on people thinking that you're right all the time. It's about people trusting and appreciating what you have to say. You need to be able to admit when you make a mistake, but at the same time, be assertive enough that you don’t become a doormat. You need to listen to what people have to say about you and learn through constructive criticism for positive improvement. “Each one, teach one” is a motto I live by. With mentoring and empowering, we all can reach success and work harmoniously together.


What can be done about apathy in the dental assisting profession?


Respect from the outside looking in (Kevin's view)

“It’s hard to feel respected when you’re the bottom person on the totem pole.” This is the exact quote from a dental assistant after a recent talk I gave in Boston. While I agree with her sentiment, I also have to question who’s making who feel so low on the ladder.

From the day my daughter was born, I’ve told her, “If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to?” Now, at the age of 20, my daughter has become a confident woman who stands her ground and fights for what she believes. She believes in herself and the power she holds within her to make a difference.

Dental assistants must adopt that same mantra. Last month I talked about the word “just” and how it kills the hopes and dreams of so many assistants. When you say, “I’m just an assistant,” you are demeaning the place you hold in the practice and your power as a health-care professional.

I know so many assistants who yearn for respect, and yet they don’t even respect themselves or the vital role they play in the practice. If you’re in this category, you have to turn around your attitude. You have to believe in your own power to change things and be a leader. If you don’t, who else is going to?

My grandpa used to tell me that you have to earn respect every day. It’s never handed to you, and it’s something that can be eroded quickly when you’re not doing things the way they should be done. It’s about always doing things the right way, even when no one else is looking. It’s about believing that your voice matters, because it does. It’s about doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Think about the people who you respect, then ask yourself why you respect them. More often than not, if I think about who fits this category for me, it’s about what they stand for and how they express it. What about you? If you respect someone, why do you respect them? What is it about that other person that caught your attention?

Whatever that is, how can you apply it to what you do on a daily basis? I love Natalie’s thoughts on trust and empowerment. How can you gain and keep other people’s trust, every day, no matter the circumstances?

If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will? I asked my daughter that and today I’m asking you. When people see that you believe in yourself and you do things the right way every day, respect will come. But remember, it has to be earned every day.

Respect is by no means easy to grab but once you do, do everything you can to hold onto it for the rest of your career.


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