Dental EQ: How improving your emotional intelligence impacts your dental practice

March 1, 2019
Want to improve your interactions with patients and staff? Start with knowing yourself.

David Black, DDS

Simply stated, emotional intelligence is the ability to read the emotions of others and respond appropriately. Colloquially referred to as “EI” or “EQ,” emotional intelligence has been explored by psychologists and popular culture since the idea was first introduced in 1964 by Michael Beldoch. In 1995, Daniel Goleman published a widely circulated book, Emotional Intelligence, that has led to even more attention on the subject. Since then, many studies have been done and books written that investigate the relationship of EQ and success—both in life and business. In this article, I’d like to look at how improving emotional intelligence can benefit us in our daily work in our dental practices.

Dentistry: An art and a science

As we all know, dentistry is both an art and a science. While technical skill is an essential component to dentistry, it does not guarantee success. My observation is that quite often the most successful practitioners are not those with the best technical skills but rather the best communication skills. A doctor with poor technical skills can many times be successful if he or she also has the gift of gab. These doctors possess a sixth sense of knowing what, how, and when to say something in a way that makes people more readily accept proposed treatment. This sixth sense is what I call “dental EQ.”

I believe there are five traits possessed by people with high dental EQ. Improving these traits increases a physician’s success in his or her practice. These traits are as follows:

• knowing yourself

• managing your emotions

• knowing others

• managing your relationships with others

• commitment

Discovering how each of these traits affects your behavior and your response to stress will change how you respond to all aspects of your practice—and your life. But the knowledge alone does not create change. Applying these skills is hard work, and you have to practice them over and over. You also have to be receptive to developing more insight into your own attitudes and actions.

Let’s look more closely to see what is required for each trait.

Knowing yourself

Part of this change is to be mindful of how you look at your environment. What makes you happy or sad? What causes you stress? What do you enjoy? What do you dislike? You cannot go to the next step until you spend time analyzing who you are and your base emotional state.

Managing your emotions

Once you know what makes you tick, you then have to decide the range of reactions you have—good and bad. What is an acceptable response and what is not? Then, you have to figure out how to control your emotions so you do not injure relationships or overwhelm yourself by overreacting to outside conditions. You have to get in touch with how you act before you can expect to get along with others.

Knowing others

Once you know yourself, can you apply the same standards to others? Figure out how those you interact with react to the stimuli in their lives. Everyone reacts in unique ways to events in life. Something that bothers you may not affect someone else at all, and something you tolerate or enjoy may aggravate someone else. Just because you think in a certain way is not an indication that someone else will act or react similarly to you. A helpful tool to learn about yourself is a personality profile called DiSC, which can help you identify your likes and preferences. You’ll discover that knowing how you respond to life’s interactions can help you start to manage your relationships better.

Managing your relationships

This requires application of knowledge from the previous traits. In other words, it does no good to know yourself, to manage your emotions, and to know others if you do not correctly apply this information.

You can decide how to react when someone offends you. Will you retaliate or smooth over the situation? Emotionally mature individuals look at their interactions and decide what is in the best interest of themselves and others. You should approach interactions by looking at other people’s likes and preferences. If we consider the DiSC profiles, you have a 75% chance that the person you are working with does not have the same personality you do. You will have the most success when you approach them in the way they prefer, not in the way you prefer. What will be most productive both personally and professionally? People who are successful have figured out how to keep friends, meet new friends, and create positive relationships.


People with purpose and drive are usually more successful than people who just give minimum efforts in their jobs. People who love their jobs are happier and more productive. If you have a plan for success and the drive to keep after it, you are much more likely to be successful. Commitment keeps you going when things are hard. Those who do not care for what they do will settle for mediocrity. Don’t settle. Drive hard to reach your goals.

Putting it all together

Have you ever judged a patient because of his or her looks? Years ago, I had a middle-aged man dressed in work clothes and dirty shoes come into my office with several missing maxillary teeth. He said he wanted some teeth. I didn’t know him and I didn’t ask many questions about his desires. I immediately told him I could fix him a flipper to replace these teeth. I judged him to have a low dental IQ and lack the means to afford my best dentistry. I got the work done in about one week, but he had difficulty with the comfort and fit. He came back a couple of times and then asked me if there wasn’t something better I could do. He allowed me to do a more permanent solution without asking many questions. Eventually, I learned he was one of the leading home builders in the area. When we finished the work, he pulled out a roll of $100 bills big enough to choke a horse and, with gratitude, he paid the bill. I realized I did not spend the time to ask questions about what he really wanted or whether he wanted something better than my quick fix.

Can you see how knowing others is an essential skill when planning treatment? Can you see how closely looking at yourself and how you feel and act on those feelings can have a profound impact on how you get along with people, both in business and in your personal life? Simply asking people what they want from you is an exquisitely simple tool. Approaching people in a way they prefer can help lead to greater success in all interactions. The principles used to improve your EQ are simple, but they are not easy. It takes hard work and persistence, but it is worth the effort to become more emotionally intelligent.

David Black, DDS, provides consulting services through Dental Practice Solutions. He owned a restorative and cosmetic practice, where he retained much of his core staff for more than 20 years. In addition to his training at the Dawson Academy and Pankey Institute, Dr. Black draws on his 40-plus years of business and clinical experience to help new doctors and associates who want to increase their productivity. Contact him at [email protected].

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