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How assistants can improve their working relationships with their dentists in 2019

Dec. 14, 2018
People often make resolutions for the coming year, and dental assistants are encouraged to make a resolution to improve their working relationships. Here's how to do that.
As dental assistants, we learn to adapt quickly to many different situations, whether a sudden change in the procedure, a difficult patient who demands to be seen immediately, or the coworker who claims to know it all. We’ve all experienced these things at some point in our careers.

As 2018 winds down, we think about the upcoming year and the goals or resolutions we want to make. How about ways to improve your working relationship with your dentist? This goal, when executed properly, will not only benefit you, but also the patients and team members you work with.

There may be some people out there who are living the ideal life in which everything is fabulous in the office. They work in a stress-free, harmonious environment with all types of perks that keep the team happy for a job well done. But the majority of us need to work at keeping harmony in the office, especially with the people we sit next to day in and day out. So, here are some tips for improving your working relationship with your dentist.

Find a way to connect on a personal and professional level

Sounds easy, right? But if this were simple, we’d see more dental assistants living the dream rather than lamenting what is not their career dream. Relationships in dental practices can be described as either social or task-related. Social relationships are personal and often based on activities that exist outside of work. Make a habit to learn something about your team members that you didn’t already know, such as, what they like to do in their spare time.

Task-related relationships are focused on professional issues surrounding the rapport between team members. Take the time to learn something about your fellow team members professionally. Do they have a subject of interest in the field that they may not be practicing? We dental professionals tend to be geeks about particular things—continuing education and technology to name a couple. A blend of social and task-related relationships is required in a successful practice, and both should be encouraged.

Learn to trust and respect

The foundation for any successful partnership between dental professionals is trust. People in trusting relationships seek input from each other and then actually apply it. They allow each other to do their jobs without unnecessary oversight. Trust is the groundwork for building strong teams, creating a positive work culture, and producing positive results.

The cost of not having trust in the workplace is greater than you may be aware of. Respect follows closely behind trust. Respectful interactions are thoughtful, candid, and tactful. Team members who respect each other value the other’s opinions and are willing to change their minds in response to what others say. This is especially important in challenging situations as it can help team members focus on problem solving when issues arise in the practice.

Learn to empathize and be mindful

If you think your dentist’s expectations are unrealistic, try to see things from his or her perspective. If you still don’t understand, ask for clarification. In mindful relationships, individuals are open to new ideas and looking at things a different way. A mindful practice avoids operating mechanically day in and day out, encourages everyone to express their ideas without fear of ridicule or punishment, and looks for ways to continually learn and improve from each other. Mindful practices align on goals and work together to achieve them. Often, two heads are better than one when it comes to finding solutions to difficult issues.

Embrace diversity with open arms, eyes, and ears

Diversity is the difference in the way people view the world due to learned behavior or the culture they associate with. Whether it stems from differences in age, race, gender, education, or experience, some diversity of thought occurs in any work setting.

Successful dental practices do not merely tolerate diversity of opinions but encourage them. Diversity broadens the number of potential solutions and enables people in the practice to learn from each other. Sometimes life experiences take people in different directions than they expect, and sometimes events brighten the inter-relatedness of various areas of our lives.

Inter-relatedness in the workplace has been around a while and is often neglected. It occurs when people are sensitive to the task at hand and understand how their work affects others on the team. Moreover, they are continually aware of how each person contributes to the goals. Practices that demonstrate this are better able to deal with unexpected events that could destroy team dynamics, such as frequent employee turnover and disgruntlement.

Effective communication has many forms: practice them all

Communication between individuals can be described as rich or lean. Rich channels, such as face-to-face interaction or telephone conversations, are preferred over messages with potentially unclear meanings or emotional content. Lean channels, such as emails or memos, are preferred for more routine messages. In successful dental practices, team members understand that both rich and lean communication channels are necessary, and when to use each strategy effectively.

When you and your team members communicate with each other, you want to be fully present with the other person. Do this by minimizing distractions, making eye contact, and acknowledging what you hear. It’s important that you actually listen to what your team member is saying at the moment rather than interrupting to offer your own opinion or making assumptions about what the person means. If you find yourself becoming distracted while your teammate is speaking, you can refocus by clarifying what the person is saying.

Focus on the positive and don’t dwell on your boss's annoying habits

Remember that you undoubtedly have habits that drive other people nuts. The best thing you can do about your attitude toward others is be consistent, personality-wise and work-wise. Some people are normally moody, and you can’t change that. Be aware of your team members’ moods and then go about your day like normal. The best thing you can do for your boss’s mood is act as you normally do and be the consistent force everyone can rely on. Don’t let your boss’s mood affect you too much. You have no idea what someone is dealing with after hours.

If you spend your entire day at the office running wildly from patient to patient, you will burn yourself out quickly. You probably won’t be enjoyable to spend time around. Set aside a few minutes each day for breaks that you can spend with your colleagues, and the office environment will be a much more positive place.

Change is difficult for some people. In order to improve your working relationships, choose one of my suggestions to start. You will quickly see that just taking a couple of extra minutes a day to connect with your team will quickly have a positive effect on your relationships at work, and your work environment will become much more enjoyable! See you in 2019!

Natalie Kaweckyj, LDARF, CDA, is past president of the American Dental Assistants Association.

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