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How high-performance dental teams communicate

Jan. 23, 2023
As the boss, it's your job to set the tone for the team. You can help decrease stress by being positive, taking care of yourself, and openly communicating with your team members.

Dentistry is one of the most stressful professions and is comprised of highly complex clinical care and communication systems. Research shows that the smaller the group, the more critical it is for teams to communicate and have clear outcomes specified for the day.1 Our success depends on the systems we set in place and everyone doing their part.

Our daily micro-actions build trust, relationships, and loyal clients. One of the most crucial aspects of a team is having mutual respect and clear, productive communication with accountability. To accomplish this, we must show up as our best selves, taking care of our thoughts and mindset, and knowing our reason for service.

Dentistry is stressful

Personal wellness is essential for bringing your best self to the team. To maintain balance, listen to your body and be aware of your wellness and stress level. Feeling balanced and feeling stress is the difference between the cortisol and dopamine levels present in your body. 

In 2009, I was going through the beginning stages of my divorce. I could not sleep, I had memory loss, and my hair was falling out in clumps. I went to a functional medicine doctor, and he performed a salivary diagnosis that revealed my cortisol was through the roof. My adrenal gland was in “fight or flight” mode and would not turn off. He prescribed Adreset, which calmed the adrenal gland, helped me sleep, and calmed my cortisol. 

Many of us are in the same situation daily, and we don't recognize the early warning signs. Do you realize when you are in “fight or flight” mode? You can begin with small micro-actions that activate dopamine and serotonin to level out your cortisol.

Steps to take for yourself

  • Take a cold shower.
  • Take deep breaths while washing your hands.
  • If feeling triggered, reflect on what could cause the rise in emotion.
  • Meditate before work or during lunch.
  • Exercise daily. No matter how little you do, it's helpful.

Steps to take for someone else

  • Smiles
  • Hugs
  • Compliments
  • Saying someone’s name
  • Showing gratitude 

Distance from drama

Be an example of the behavior you want to create among your team. If you recognize someone being dramatic, encourage the person to go directly to the individual to resolve the issue. Don't feed into the drama. Also, before you choose to complain, ask yourself if you are creating a drama triangle. 

Get curious, not accusatory

Instead of assuming that someone is wrong or has made a bad decision, believe that you can learn from their decision instead of being judgmental. To do this, ask a question about the decision out of curiosity. “Amy, I’m curious when (the decision was made) if you meant to . . . I’m wondering if everything is OK. Help me understand if I’m missing something.” When you are accusatory about a decision, it often means that you don't understand the decision and its context. Being curious helps you understand another person’s perspective and allows the other person to feel understood. 

Use “and” instead of “but”

The word “but” is used a lot in daily interactions: “You did a great job, but . . .” When you use the term “but,” it dismisses the first phrase altogether. Instead of using the word “but,” insert the word “and” to create more direct and effective feedback. It sounds like this. “You did a great job, and when this happens next time, we should also focus on . . .” See how it is a supportive transition rather than dismissive? Using “and” is a game-changer for communication in any area of your life—with friends, partners, and children. The simple word “and” helps you keep the praise in what you are communicating and builds on the point with additional thoughts and constructive communication. 

Gratitude and validation

We all want to be appreciated and validated. Take time to tell someone how you noticed the extra steps they took and how the choices and actions made a difference in the level of care they provided. Patients will notice the positive reinforcement and how happy your team is to provide care. When I consult with offices, there's a palpable vibe of the team morale and their level of satisfaction. Your patients notice it too. In our dental office, we become immune to our vibe because it is what we experience daily. Here are ways to express gratitude, even in front of patients. 

  • Say thank you.
  • Have a gratitude board in your office.
  • Share team wins during morning huddles.
  • Tell someone the difference they made in your day.
  • Be specific on how someone improved your day or your care.

We also want to be validated in our daily actions. Here are some phrases that can be used to communicate validation among your team to make them feel heard and understood:

  • “It makes sense.”
  • “That is understandable.”
  • “That must feel stressful.”
  • “It’s terrible that you feel that way.” 

We all need each other to be able to deliver the care that patients deserve. Your performance begins with your awareness and how you either affect or defect your teammates and provide care. The choices you make daily, even small changes, add up to the 1% difference that you will feel daily and accumulate into a year of growth. Start small, start by taking care of yourself and putting on your oxygen mask first, then help your team meet their personal and professional goals by being a high-performance leader. Your patients will notice, and so will your team.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2021 and updated regularly


  1. Maxwell J. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. 2010. Harper Collins Leadership.
About the Author

Kelly Tanner, PhD, RDH

A recent addition to the DentistryIQ Advisory Board, Kelly Tanner, PhD, RDH, is a visionary leader who helps dental teams achieve personal and career growth. Kelly’s combined leadership experience, doctoral education business, organizational leadership, and licensure in executive coaching have helped thousands of dental professionals become clear about their area of growth and thrive as global industry leaders. Dr. Tanner was recognized by Dentistry Today in 2021 as one of the top continuing education providers, and she’s impacted more than 100,000 people with her speaking. Dr. Tanner lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, and serves as CEO of Next Level Dental Hygiene and Kelly Tanner Leadership. Contact her at [email protected], nextleveldentalhygiene.com, or kellytannerleadership.com.

Updated April 18, 2022