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Troubleshooter: How can RDH avoid uncomfortable conversations, such as politics?

June 3, 2021
Some dental patients insist on sharing their political views with the dental staff, or religious views, or ... You get the picture. How do dental professionals tackle uncomfortable topics?

Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? The experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: We have TVs in the operatories and some patients request news stations when they're in the chair. I always oblige but with the current political climate it has become a problem. How do I respond to patients who insist on talking politics with me? I usually just say that I don't discuss politics. This doesn't stop some people from spouting their opinions and then looking to me to agree with them, which frequently I don't. It gets quite uncomfortable when they refuse to stop talking and I don't agree with their opinions. Trying to divert their attention to their oral health doesn't always work since they seem much happier talking about their political beliefs.

ANSWER FROM AMY SMITH, Amy Smith Consulting:
While this question pertains to politics, there are many topics that are best left out of the conversation in a business setting. In addition to politics, religion is usually near the top of the list. But even discussions about such seemingly innocent topics as favorite sports teams or television shows can cause tension. The list goes on and on. No wonder we discuss the weather!

I recommend you work on scripts or phrases with your coworkers that feel and sound natural to you to use in situations like this. Your reply is likely to vary from someone else's depending on how you naturally speak and respond. For some, a simple diversionary question might work, such as, "So, what's happened in your life since we last say you?" If the patient persists on discussing the awkward topic, remember, you do not have to respond at all. Just smile and keep working.

ANSWER FROM JAN KELLER, Jan Keller & Associates:
You may have answered your own question when you said, "They refuse to stop talking." Often people are not looking for agreement or input when they embark on a topic, of any kind. They simply want to be heard, or want to vent in a "safe" environment. There is no pressure on you to agree or disagree with them.

Decide on a response that is comfortable for you, whether it's silence, the occasional "Hmm, that's interesting" or a more direct, "I really can't discuss this with you, Mr. Green, but you're welcome to tell me what you think." It's politics in this example, but you will undoubtedly hear opinions and views that differ from yours on many topics during your career. Don't let it affect your attitude, or add unnecessary stress to your day.

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Send your questions for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various consultants, many of whom are associated with Speaking Consulting Network, Academy of Dental Management Consultants, Dental Consultant Connection, and other expert dental support and human resources organizations. Their members take turns fielding your questions on DentistryIQ, because they are very familiar with addressing the tough issues. Hey, it's their job.
Send your questions to [email protected]. All inquiries will be answered anonymously here on DIQ.

Originally published in 2016 and updated regularly.

About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.