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No more being ignored: A dentist’s tips on being heard

Nov. 17, 2021
Are you tired of your boss not listening to your ideas? Figure out what motivates your dentist, then frame your suggestions in language he or she will appreciate.
David R. Rice, DDS, Chief editor

Have you ever had a really great idea and brought it to your dentist, only to be shot down? How’d that make you feel? Disheartened? Discouraged? Did it make you question why you show up every day, all in on your practice’s success? 

I understand. I’d feel the same way. And I’ll share a secret. It’s not that your dentist doesn’t value you. It’s not that he or she doesn’t want to hear your amazing ideas. Dentists went to dental school and learned how to deliver tremendous dentistry. Want to take a guess about what they did not learn? They didn’t learn how to lead you. That wasn’t taught in dental school.

I’d like to show you how you can help with this, and by help, I mean I’d like to show you how you can get me, your dentist, to listen to you.

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The big six motivators

There are six primary motivators for most of us in a dental practice: money, appearance, time, trust, comfort, and health. 

Think about this in terms of your patients. Some patients choose whether to have their dentistry done because of money. They say no to save money today. They say yes when they understand they’ll save money by treating something sooner rather than later. 

Some patients choose to do their dentistry because of their appearance. They say no because they worry treatment will make them look worse. They say yes when they know we can improve how they look. 

Some patients choose to do their dentistry because of time. They say no because they don’t believe they have time. They say yes because treating today can save them far more time in the future.

Some patients choose to do their dentistry based on trust. They say no because they don’t think they really need the work, or they question whether our practice is the right practice to do it. They say yes when they know they are in excellent hands. 

Some of our patients choose to do their dentistry based on comfort. They say no if they’re nervous the procedure will hurt, immediately or afterward. They say yes when they believe we can relieve their pain or keep them from feeling it later. 

Last but not least, some of our patients choose to do their dentistry based on health. They say no if they worry there’s risk to their health. They say yes when they know we can improve their health with treatment.

People are people 

Your patients aren’t the only ones who make choices based on the big six. Now think of the big six in terms of your dentist. Which of the big six do you believe motivates your dentist most?

  • How much money the practice makes?
  • How he or she and/or the practice look to your patients and community?
  • How much time everything takes to accomplish?
  • How trusted the dentist is?
  • How comfortable he or she is doing things the way they’ve always been done?
  • How healthy the practice bottom line is? 

Scrap the golden rule 

There’s a better way. When you and I learned the golden rule as kids, the main lesson was be nice. That said, think about the big six. Think about which one motivates you. Think about someone trying to make you value a different motivator than the one that matters most to you.

Would it work? If you’re like most people, what matters most to you is what matters most to you. So, what if instead of treating people the way you’d like to be treated, treat them the way they like to be treated. What if the next time you have a great idea, you frame it to your dentist in a language he or she better understands? What if your idea is to sterilize instruments differently and you know your dentist values money? 

Start with, “Dr. Smith, I know how important it is for us to be money conscious. I have an idea for sterilization that will require an investment today. It will, however, save us thousands of dollars after the first six months. It will also save thousands of dollars every year for the next five years.” 

If at first you don’t succeed, remember what your parents taught you. I know you’ve had great ideas in the past. I’m betting some of those ideas are still great today. As a dentist, I’ll be honest. I had to learn how to be the leader I am today. As a dentist, I’m still learning, and I need your help to teach me.

Think about who you are and what matters most to you. Think about who your dentist is and what matters most to him or her. Learn to frame how you ask. You’ll not only get more of what you want; you’ll be living a leadership lesson you can bring to your entire team, dentist included. 

Keep learning. Keep improving. You’re worth it!