Dimension 2: behavioral skills

Four variables make the difference in dentistry: clinical skills, behavioral skills, business skills, and time dedicated to developing them.

Four variables make the difference in dentistry: clinical skills, behavioral skills, business skills, and time dedicated to developing them. This month, think about the behavioral skills you need to master and read this gentle reminder: The most precious things in life cannot be bought.

A group of students was asked to list the Seven Wonders of the World. Although there was disagreement, the following got the most votes: Egypt’s Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Mount Everest, computers, and China’s Great Wall. While gathering the votes, the teacher noted a quiet student hadn’t turned in her paper. She asked the girl if she was having trouble. The girl replied, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t make up my mind because there are so many.” The teacher said, “Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.” The girl hesitated, then read, “I think the Seven Wonders of the World are to see, taste, touch, hear, feel, laugh, and love.”

This story illustrates the difference between what we see clinically or scientifically and what really drives patients to seek us and our designs. Dentistry is art, science, and relationships. A better bur, stronger bonding agent, or new articulator will not create the trusting relationships that drive and fulfill successful dentists.

Dr. L.D. Pankey reminded us that balancing Aristotle’s tenets of work, love, worship, and play are more likely to lead to happiness than being askew. Knowing your work, patients, and yourself and applying that knowledge will likely lead to financial and spiritual rewards that can come from dentistry.

With more women in dentistry, we see this more clearly. Dentistry’s behavioral component is more recognized and celebrated by the young and females in our midst. We can learn from them. Metrosexual dentists - both male and female - who embody the spirit of caring and compassion will rise to the surface every time.

Hiring and retaining staff is the No. 1 concern in dental practices after insurance interference. This problem will cease when we have the insight and sensitivity to hire correctly and then act appropriately and compassionately to engage our employees in our practice missions.

Employee engagement is the No. 1 predictor of staff longevity and ultimately of customer engagement and profits. Despite what we think, employees do not leave for more money. (Money never ranks higher than fourth on exit interviews.) They leave because they are not heard, do not have a friend at work, do not feel their work is ­important, or do not feel respected.

Connecting the generations is tough. In their book, “When Generations Collide,” authors Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman help us bridge those generation gaps that can make understanding each other easier.

Our more mature friends with hardened work ethics who see retirement as a great reward are called Traditionalists (born 1900-’45). The Baby Boomers (born 1946-’64) are curious jugglers balancing two incomes, the demands of parenthood, and an overwhelming desire to succeed. The irreverence, disrespect, and cocky ambition often attributed to Generation Xers (born 1965-’80) leave them trying to prove themselves over and over again. Finally, the younger Millennial (born 1981-’99) are socially conscious, unique, savvy, and changing the work place (at this moment) with their demands and relationships.

How we recruit, train, motivate, reward, and manage this quartet of styles is critical to the success of any business today and in the future - especially a dental practice. Spending time getting to know our patients and educating them to all that dentistry can offer is paramount. The behavioral implications of sharing values during a new-patient experience are huge. Enabling our visitors to shift their paradigms about dentistry, insurance, periodontal health, and anything else on our list is where the rubber hits the road. No new bur or bonding agent can do that for us.

Solutions are to be found in the doctor-patient relationship in which friends trust each other and work together to solve oral health problems. Care about your patients and treat them as you would want to be treated. Involve them in the oral health examination so they discover, along with you, their own conditions. Inform them as fully as you would want to be informed using language and illustrations they understand. Hear their questions. Help them discern what is optimally appropriate for them. In this developing doctor-patient (teacher-patient) relationship, the necessary trust to achieve optimal dentistry will grow.

Mark T. Murphy, DDS, FAGD, practices restorative dentistry in Rochester Hills, Mich. He is director of continuing education at Dental Technologies Inc. He is on the board and visiting faculty of The Pankey Institute. Dr. Murphy can be reached via e-mail at mmurphy@dtidental.com.

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