Listen More Talk Less

Are you an active listener in your dental office?

Dec. 11, 2013
Dental assistants can show interest in patients by really listening to what they have to say

By Lisa Marie Spradley, FAADOM

Let’s face it; we’re all busy. Our daily to do lists and last minute additions to that list have us scrambling to get it all done. We rush about and barely have time to stop and speak to friends, let alone listen to their responses. Somehow in the rush to do everything, we’ve forgotten what it means to really stop and listen to the person we’re speaking to. When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing, and then gave them your full attention when they responded? Did you truly listen to what they were telling you, or did you simply hear their reply and nod and smile and quickly move on to your next errand?

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The dental office is no exception. The phone rings, patients are coming in for appointments, and patients are checking out, and somehow we must attend to all of them. It is way too easy to forget to really listen to what your patients are telling you. Are they calling to schedule an appointment for a cleaning, or do they have something else going on? When they walked in the door for their appointment, did they have a question about their insurance while you were on the phone with another patient? When that patient was checking out, did the person understand that he or she was paying only an estimated portion? These are all good questions, however, if we’re too busy to stop and listen to what they’re asking us, we might not give them the correct answer.

There is a big difference between “Do you file my insurance?” and “Is your doctor a participating provider?” Most patients do not ask the latter, they ask the former and expect you to understand the difference. Are you an active listener, or do you make a pretense of listening to what they are telling you and give a standard reply that does not always address their concern?

There are three vital components to being an active listener. They are not hard, but they do require that you give your patients your full attention when they are speaking to you. An active listener is able to tune out all the distractions and truly hear what a patient is trying to tell them.

The first key to being an active listener is intentionally listening to what the patient is saying. Do not let yourself become sidetracked by distractions. Although this can be hard when you’re working at the front desk, it is possible. Always take the time to answer all of the patient’s questions, and ask follow-up questions based on what a patient is telling you with their words and actions. This leads to the next key.

The second key to being an active listener is to watch a person’s facial expressions and posture while they are speaking to you. Watch for signs of confusion or agitation, and address these concerns before the patient leaves the office. Interestingly enough, be sure you’re not sending any mixed messages with your posture. Do not cross your arms, as this suggests that you’re not receptive to what someone is telling you, and do not make any abrupt movements that could be construed that you’re agitated.

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The third key to being an active listener is to have an open mind. Do not judge someone based on the way they speak, the clothes they wear, or how they look. This attitude has no place in the dental team and should never be tolerated. Never assume that you know someone else’s circumstances. The dental team should be compassionate to all of its patients.

These three key components will help any dental team not only improve their current patient retention rate, but also increase their new patient numbers. More importantly, it builds relationships that will last forever, and this is what really makes our practices and lives fuller. Strong patient relationships are at the heart of every dental team.

This reminds me of one more key. Being from the south, I would be remiss if I did not tell you about the fourth key. Always keep an open heart when listening. There is no better way to sympathize with someone than to close your eyes and imagine yourself in their situation. Walk a mile in their shoes, and then respond as you would want to be treated.

Follow these keys and you will not only improve your listening skills, you will build stronger relationships with patients, family, and friends. We can all benefit from taking the time to be an active listener.

Lisa Marie Spradley, FAADOM, is the “Front Desk Lady.” She has worked in the dental front office for more than 16 years and uses that experience to help others focus on the patient and transform first impressions into best impressions. Lisa Marie is a front office consultant, speaker, and writer. She is a Fellow and an active, lifetime member with the American Association of Dental Office Managers. Contact her online at to learn more about how the “Front Desk Lady” can help you.