While traveling between Tulsa and Minneapolis recently, I had to change planes in St. Louis. The flight was due to depart at 8:10 p.m. But because of a storm over Minneapolis, we were delayed. One of the problems of summer travel is that airplanes that have sat in the sun for any length of time are uncomfortably hot. On-ground air conditioning does not keep the plane cool. At 10 p.m., we finally took off. What blessed relief! The plane cooled off and everyone became more comfortable.
However, the storm did not cooperate and when we arrived in the Minneapolis area it was still there. After staying in a holding pattern for about 30 minutes and watching a beautiful display of lightning in the sky, the pilot came on with the bad news. We could not land and we were returning to St. Louis.
We arrived in St. Louis at 12:30 a.m. The gate agent came on board and said that our flight was being rescheduled for 6 a.m. As we walked into the terminal, the airline (TWA) was ready for us. They had two service centers fully manned and very quickly took care of the paperwork and got us to hotels for a couple of hours of sleep. So far, so good.
The next morning, I assembled with my fellow passengers. I was worried about making my 9 a.m. meeting in Minneapolis. Everyone was trying to make the best of a bad situation. All except one! For some reason, the agent at the gate taking the tickets was giving everyone a hard time. Perhaps he did not appreciate the early morning call that summoned him to work earlier than usual. Perhaps he was stressed because some of the people were not reticketed properly. I am really not sure. What I do know is that this one person was making everyone miserable because of his attitude.
He had decided that he would pass his stress on to everyone else and let everyone know that he was right and everyone else was wrong. On the plane, everyone was talking about how unnecessarily rude this man had been. So the positive work of many airline employees had been swept away by one man`s stress. What a shame!
How many times has this same scenario been played out in your offices. We all work very hard to establish and build relationships with our patients. We do all the things just right and then one day someone gets stressed and allows that stress to spoil a relationship that has taken years to build.
One of the principles that I teach in my seminars is that we must learn to stay focused on what we are doing. A doctor cannot be focused if he is interrupted by telephone calls during clinical procedures. Most phone calls interrupt our concentration with some kind of news. If the news is stressful, can you come back into the treatment room in the same mood as you left it? The patient immediately can sense an elevated stress level in the doctor. The stress spills onto the team and they become stressed. A simple telephone call can ruin a procedure by breaking the focus of all involved. There are very few calls that cannot be returned at a more convenient time later. One of the best ways to avoid these types of problems is to plan your day in the morning huddle. Work on maintaining your focus throughout the day.
Most of our problems can be solved if we control stress and know how to communicate in those stressful situations. But how do we learn the skills? Most successful dental practices that I have encountered spend a lot of time in staff meetings. Perhaps a better name would be "in-service training." Every highly successful business has many hours of in-service training for their employees. A vast majority of this training is in communications of one kind or another. This training is not only verbal, but also needs to cover our body language. My team tells me that they know what kind of a day it is going to be when they see me get out of the car in the parking lot! I send many visual messages during the day. Some of them are intentional; but, I am unaware of many of the other signals that I send . . . and some of those signals can get me in hot water!
In a future issue, I plan to have a master trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) introduce you to some great communication principles. I believe that good communication skills are the foundation of a successful practice. A powerful learning tool is to role-play these skills during your in-service training sessions.
This issue focuses on examinations and treatment planning. What a great time to discover what our patients expect of us and then act on those expectations!
Joe Blaes, DDS, Editor