What do you mean, "Raise my image, raise my income"?

Dentistry's "image expert" explains how to focus on the best features about yourself, as well as how to forget the rest.

By Janice Hurley-Trailor

Why should I care about my image?

Your patients' and your colleagues' willingness to trust and respect you is affected by the visual and verbal cues you give them. Not only that, but how others experience you affects how they treat you, and that ends up affecting how you feel about yourself. Seriously, your self-esteem changes based on the feedback you get from others and the mental messages you give yourself. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux documented daily fluctuations in self-esteem based on the information the brain assembles.

What does image have to do with our role as a hygienist?

To lead your patients to a higher level of health, you need to be someone they look up to and respect. Investing in your professional image saves you time in the long run because others will trust you and move more quickly in the direction you want to lead them. It might sound a bit manipulative, but it works.

Think about it: we know the packaging matters when we hand out toothbrushes and floss in a nice gift bag with the office logo on it versus a plain white bag or no bag at all. No one can argue that the toothbrush and floss did not really increase in quality with the wrapping of a nice bag, but the pride you felt in handing those same items to your patient in the personal bag is clear. Packaging affects your patients' perception of what they are receiving.

Consciously or subconsciously, people make judgments about whether to trust you as a competent professional. The first impression accounts for 70% of someone's final opinion of you. Every day, you probably encounter new patients or their family members, whose willingness to return for future appointments can be determined by that first experience with you.

How do you want to be perceived at first glance? Take a moment to list some adjectives. Here are two important adjectives for your list: attractive (well groomed) and current. These two goals are not for vanity's sake, but to ensure that your patients' encounters with you add to the quality of their dental experience and their confidence in the practice.

What should I look like during work hours?

Your hair is always worn up and off the shoulders, with natural-looking makeup, and minimal jewelry. Your shoes are spotless, and your lab jackets or scrubs are impeccably washed and ironed. They are personally fitted by a tailor. Clothes with structure and clothes that are layered will always look better then clothes that are made from a thin or shapeless material. Your well-groomed, polished image shows that you value and respect your patients and the practice.

You might try looking at photos or video footage of yourself to see your patients' view with an objective eye. Do you consistently look the part of a confident, up-to-date, healthy professional?

And for hygienists who wish to become consultants or lecturers, maintaining a consistent professional image is especially time well spent.

What are the top five image killers?

1. Chewing gum.

2. Acrylic nails or colored nail polish.

3. A negative disposition.

4. Non-stop talking.

5. A messy operatory.

How did you get started in image consulting?

I started as a practice management consultant in dentistry more than 20 years ago, working on every system possible to promote the health of each practice and the daily enjoyment and empowerment of their teams. Professional image was one important element to the success of each office. This would include, but not be limited to the visual presentation. (The verbal impression and the energy patients experience are also important.) But as I gave various practice management courses, I would show the before-and-after photos of teams I had worked with, explaining why we chose certain styles and colors for both uniforms and professional attire. As I did so, I started to get requests to speak specifically on the subject of professional image in dentistry.

Linda Miles sponsored my first makeover at a Speakers Consulting Network meeting in 2004 in Las Vegas. Attendees entered a contest by describing how a makeover would benefit them personally and professionally. At that time, two very special hygienists were selected as winners: Anastasia Turchetta, RDH, and Coleen Rutledge, RDH. They each received a head-to-toe makeover, which included hair, clothes, shoes, and makeup. I went so far as to fly in my own hair stylist and we did two full makeovers in about nine hours. Linda Miles was inspirational in making professionalism a priority and then a reality for her SCN attendees.

What do you do as an image consultant?

An image consultant is a personal coach. I listen to the way you want to be perceived. Then I help you see yourself as others now see you, and support you in recognizing what you're already doing to match your desired image, and what else might enhance your presence. It is often hard for us to see ourselves as others see us; we can't stand back and feel the energy we are exuding, and we don't have a fresh unbiased eye as to our strengths and weaknesses.

I'm still a little cloudy about what you, as the image expert, can do for me.

Well, let's put it in terms of what hygienists do every day: diagnose and then recommend treatment. I do that same thing. I listen to how you see yourself now and how you want others to perceive you, and then I help you understand what you are doing right now in terms of posture, voice tone, body language, and, yes, clothes, shoes and makeup to get the results you want.

Most of my clients tell me that it's overwhelming or confusing to choose the most flattering hairstyle or accessories. There is an actual science to understanding what will be flattering on you. Your body proportions and coloring dictate your best options. An image consultant helps you discover your most flattering hair options, best clothes for your figure, and appropriate shoes and jewelry to communicate your best you.

I teach you how to "focus on the best and forget the rest." No one wants to spend too much time, and certainly not too much money, trying to look professional and confident. An image expert teaches you how to do that consistently, so others will perceive you as you wish to be seen, and that's one of the clearest ways to make your career more financially and personally rewarding.

Janice Hurley-Trailor is an image expert and very successful business management consultant with over 20 years of rave reviews. Janice is known for empowering the entire corporate team to create success. She believes in the power of personal choice for making dreams come true. Janice began her advanced education in 1971 studying office administration, leadership communication, personnel management, promotion, marketing, economics and organizational behavior. Janice has a BS from the University of San Francisco in Organizational Behavior. An active member of the National Speakers Association, Janice continues to write for national publications and speak professionally nationwide. She is recognized as a knowledgeable business management and image consultant that delivers far beyond her clients' expectations and appropriately earns the respect of her clients for her accuracy and effective methods.

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