Listening Breen

Tips to enhance effective communication skills for the dental assistant

Jan. 22, 2013
Good communication skills make all the difference in how a message is received.

Effective communication skills are essential for all dental professionals. As dental assistants interact with many people each day, it is important to understand how the multifaceted communication process works in order to assure that the messages we send are received appropriately.

The communication process includes multiple components, and each component is critical to effective and thorough communication. The cycle includes the sender’s idea, sender’s filter, the message, receiver’s filter, the receiver’s understanding of the message, and feedback. During effective communication, thoughts and ideas should be offered in an appropriate manner so that others will listen.

It is important to be aware that feelings affect how a message is delivered. Your confidence, comfort with offering suggestions, evaluation of the timeliness of the communication, and “status” relative to the person with whom the communication is occurring should all be considered. A comfortable or positive self-concept will generate more effective communication. A strong self-concept prevents defensive behavior, which hinders communication.

The sender’s perception of the importance of the message, comfort delivering the message, determination of how to give the message, and concern for how the message will be received all affect the outcome of the communication. Effective communication is increased if the sender feels positive or respectful toward the receiver. Negative or nonrespectful feelings require a conscious effort to overcome for successful communication.

Active listening

Really listening to others and showing them that you’re listening and hearing what they say is critical. Effective listening is actually a difficult skill that requires significant effort. Listening is as important to communication as sending the message. Listening is an active process during which the listener interacts with the speaker.

Effective listening requires attention to nonverbal cues, such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language. Internally criticizing the speaker’s delivery, becoming emotional about a concept, listening for only general facts and ignoring details, pretending to be attentive, overreacting to certain words or phrases, and lack of attention all hinder the communication process. The feelings and attitudes of the listener affect what is perceived. Therefore, it is most helpful to be open to the sender, refrain from interruption, and try to hear what’s being said rather than what has not been said.

Suspend making a judgment about the message, avoid distraction, and always pause and think before responding. Once a comment is made it cannot be taken back. Show interest nonverbally, do not include your own issues, and be sure to review critical information. Reflect on the message the speaker is trying to send and respond when appropriate. Interpersonal communication depends on making thoughts, feelings, and needs known to others, and the receptiveness of others in sharing similar information. The process is involved and includes concerted efforts by multiple individuals.

Although communication may be considered in simplistic terms, such as sending and receiving messages, both elements must be present for effective communication to occur. The basic transaction of the message does not validate that actual communication has occurred. The process is often only partially completed due to circumstances surrounding the communication attempt. Some factors that may affect the communication process include, but are not limited to, the environment in which the communication occurs, emotions, verbal ability, lack of attention to the message, hidden agendas, status of participants, and defensiveness. These factors may result in mixed messages and may distort the content. A significant factor is the trust of the parties involved, as communication may be negatively affected if the parties are cautious and lack trust. Be aware of any conditions that may block or alter the intention of the sent and received messages.

It is not always easy to hear what others are saying. To prevent misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and errors, effective feedback mechanisms are necessary. In order to facilitate the communication process, paraphrase to clarify issues, use open-ended questions, and refrain from defensive responses, which block the feedback. It is always helpful to thank the person giving the feedback and seek clarification when necessary. Feedback not intended to help the recipient is often received negatively. When one is angry or hurt, feedback will not be well received.

To guard against punitive feedback, keep feedback specific and behavioral. Note that constructive criticism relating to specific behavior provides opportunities for productive change. Well-intentioned behavioral feedback is productive as it is given to help the receiver become aware of and change behavior. Be selective in choosing when and where to offer feedback so that it will be best received.

When providing feedback, share positives, be specific, and focus on behavior. The primary motive for providing feedback should be to be helpful. Feedback should be immediate and shared privately. If these protocols are followed and the receiver becomes defensive, clarify the feedback to be sure there is no misunderstanding. If defensiveness continues, reschedule another time for discussion or, depending on the circumstances, adhere to the issues and carefully explore the root of the difficulty. Be aware that the receiver’s position relative to you and your role may also affect how you proceed. Always remember to be respectful of others during all communication.


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