Ask the expert series featuring Dr. Michael Schuster

Oct. 12, 2009
Dr. Michael Schuster answers your questions.

Ask the Expert featuring Dr. Michael Schuster

Question: I am highly anxious when having to sell my dentistry to a patient. I actually think I am more nervous than they are! As a result, I’m not able to get very far with my patients. This frustrates me. What can you tell me before I throw in the towel? -- Dr. Trish B, Chicago, IL

Answer: Most people agree that building rapport is one of the most critical steps in the sales cycle. But, by the same token, the majority is not clear as to what rapport really is. So let’s put some clarity in this issue. Put simply, rapport is building or establishing a sympathetic relationship with the client. This commonality bonds the client, the salesperson and the dentist -- increasing their shared level of confidence, comfort and trust.

The achieve true rapport -- rapport that enhances a relationship and increases the likelihood of a patient being able to say “Yes” -- you must dispense with the small talk that is so typical of many. Asking trivial questions about the weather or sporting events is all too familiar and all too boring.

Unfortunately, the salesperson (you) believes this mindless conversation is the key to establishing rapport with the client. But the small talk usually ends up at a dead end. Thus, an important question must be asked: Why limit yourself to verbal communication and chance, which boxes you in, when there are other more effective alternatives?

Let’s look at some studies. 7% of your rapport-building capability is based on oral communication or on the words you use. The reason, in part, is that people rarely listen closely to what others (especially people in a selling situation) are saying. Have you ever had a patient leave a case presentation and talk to your receptionist like you hadn’t said one word to the patient? So, if you rely on words alone, you are missing 93% of your communication ability.

Another 38% of rapport-building comes through the tone of your voice. Some say that 38% is hard to believe. But think in terms of your own personal experiences. From my perspective, I can recall listening to people raise their voices in heated conversation only to end up losing the argument. Can you recall similar situations in your own life and experiences? Think of some. The message is clear. How you say something carries a stronger message than what you actually say! Keep that in mind when you talk with every patient, every day.

Now let’s talk about building a balance in rapport-building. The last 55% of the equation and the largest component of communication between people is the result of physiology. Facial expressions, gestures and the quality and types of body movements reveal much more about what is being said than do the words themselves. Did you ever wonder why you find yourself laughing at a silly joke told by a professional comedian? It’s not because of the words alone. It’s the delivery -- the tonality and physiology -- that makes you laugh.

Without the dimensions of tonality and physiology, salespeople like you and me are forced to develop client rapport with words alone…thus, giving up 93% of the tools available with which to communicate. Communication is both a science and an art, so stop shooting from the hip and start using all three components more often -- physiology, tonality and word content. You will build rapport faster and more effectively.

So how do you apply these three dimensions more effectively? One of the best approaches is to create a common physiology with the person. In effect, you want to mirror your prospect. Imitate his voice pattern, pitch, speed, volume and use them when returning the conversation. Dr. Milton Erickson, the famous hypnotherapist from Phoenix, found that by mirroring individuals he could achieve totally binding rapport in a matter of minutes.

As you mirror the tonality and physiology of your client, you will find that you are now working on the subconscious mind. His brain begins to think, “This person is like me and must be okay.” Here’s the key point: people like people who are like them and they buy from people they like.

In summary, if you already have all three communication tools available to you, don’t short change yourself by limiting your rapport-building skills to idle conversation. Instead, see what your client sees, hear what your client hears, feel what your client feels and mirror this in the way you deal with him. This done, you’ll find the real meaning and the real value of client rapport.

Once this becomes routine, your comfort level in selling will be achieved.

-- Dr. Michael Schuster

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A practicing dentist, Dr. Michael Schuster founded The Schuster Center in 1978. Guiding thousands of graduates to achieve wealth and freedom, The Schuster Center is the first business school created exclusively for dentists, celebrating 30 years in 2008. He is a cadre and former director at The Pankey Institute, adjunct faculty at The Dawson Center, OBI and LSU Cosmetic Continuum. Visit