Mars and Venus in the Dental Office

Oct. 1, 1998
Although Dr. Gray`s book is intended to be a guide for married men and women, its principles apply directly to men and women in the dental office. Here`s how.

Although Dr. Gray`s book is intended to be a guide for married men and women, its principles apply directly to men and women in the dental office. Here`s how.

Paul Homoly, DDS, with

John Gray, Ph.D.

Author`s Note: Mars/Venus concepts are not intended to stereotype the behavior of men and women. Many men have Venusian characteristics; many women, especially in the workplace, display Martian characteristics. The concepts are broad patterns of behavior observed from more than 20 years of experience by Dr. John Gray. His work seeks to identify the differences between men and women. He offers strategies that help us understand and appreciate our differences, which help us design the paths to follow to create harmony among us.

In the fall of 1997, my wife and I attended the Mars/Venus Institute in Mill Valley, Calif. We were trained by Dr. Gray and his staff to facilitate Mars/Venus workshops for married couples and singles. During our training, I approached Dr. Gray with some ideas for articles and courses on relationship issues in the dental office. He agreed with the vision and is supporting my effort to bring Mars/Venus concepts to dentistry.

At dinner one evening, my client, Dr. Baker, shook his head and confessed, "It`s a love-hate relationship between my staff and me. I can`t get my staff to settle in and work like a team. The harder I try, the worse it gets. It`s hard working with all women."

"What`s the problem?" I asked.

"It`s not what`s the problem, it`s who`s the problem," he said. "We`ve got a great office, but it seems like someone`s always crabbing about something. It wears me out. And half the time, I don`t understand what they`re complaining about."

"Do they know what`s causing their problems?" I asked.

"Listen, they`re supposed to know. That`s why I pay them," he barked.

Can you identify with Dr. Baker`s frustration? If so, then John Gray, Ph.D., has an important book for you - Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Although his book is intended to be a guide for married men and women, its principles apply directly to the men and women of dentistry. Here`s how.

Imagine that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. On their respective planets, Martians and Venusians behaved and communicated quite differently. Martians were motivated by achievement, competence, power, and efficiency. Venusians valued love, communication, and the quality of their relationships. Martians prided themselves on doing things by themselves. For Venusians, it was a great sign of love to offer help to another Venusian without being asked.

Bringing two worlds together

As legend has it, Martians and Venusians came to Earth to live together. And yes, they built dental offices. Together, Martians and Venusians offered their patients a marvelous mixture of competency, efficiency, results, love, communication, beauty, and quality relationships. Martians and Venusians combined the best of their values to create heavenly dental practices.

Because they knew they were from different planets, they recognized and appreciated their differences. For example, on Mars, when a Martian dentist was stressed, he`d go into his private-office cave and silently think through his problem. At first, this distressed the Venusian assistants because, on Venus, when a Venusian had a problem, her friends would instinctively gather around her and they`d talk about it, which made her feel better. On earth, when the Martian dentist would go to his cave, the assistants` instincts were to draw him out and convene a staff meeting to discuss things. But the Martian dentist assured his Venusian assistants that it was not necessary. He was happy to solve his problems alone. So, the Venusians went about their tasks, cheerfully chatting among themselves. And when he came out to treat his next patient, everything was just fine.

(Important note: Many excellent dentists also were Venusians!)

Martian dentists also realized that their assistants had needs quite different from their own. At the end of a long day of treating patients, an assistant would talk to her Martian dentist about how long and tiring the day was. She would talk about each aspect of the day`s schedule, reliving the day`s events, and expressing how she felt.

At first, the Martian dentist thought he should try to solve her problems by offering solutions, thus trying to minimize her problems. After all, his job was to solve problems. But, the Venusian assistant told him that it was not necessary for him to offer solutions. She explained that it was important that he not tell her or imply that her feelings were wrong. The Venusian just wanted to be heard and understood. That made her feel better and relieved her sense of being overwhelmed. Because he knew Venusians were from a different planet, it was easy for the Martian doctor to listen to his assistant and not offer solutions or make her feel bad for feeling overwhelmed.

However, one night, in their sleep, both Martians and Venusians experienced selective amnesia and they forgot one very important thing - they were from different planets! As a result, they lost the awareness that they were supposed to be different. The next day - and every day since - Martians and Venusians in the dental office have been struggling to get along. It has gotten so bad that an entire industry sprung up over night - practice management.

Putting out fires

Practice-management consultants swarmed over dentistry, trying to put out the fires between dentists and assistants. Their advice included putting in complex incentive systems, inventing personality grids, and hammering the importance of staff meetings. Martian consultants invalidated Venusian emotions, while Venusian consultants tried to "fix" the Martians. Nothing worked consistently and, to this day, the number one complaint Martians and Venusians in dentistry have is about each other. Could there be something that our profession has overlooked ... perhaps a fundamental principle of management that is foundational to all practice-management models?

According to Dr. Gray, there is. What we`ve overlooked is that the men and women of dentistry are supposed to be different. It`s unrealistic to apply rigid practice-management models that lump men and women together.

Did you know that men and women differ significantly in the following areas:

- How they manage stress

- What motivates them

- How they communicate

- Their emotional cycles

- Their emotional needs

- What pleases them

- How they ask for support

Look at this list and tell me how the men and women of dentistry can prosper when the practice-management model they follow does not recognize and adjust for fundamental gender differences.

Most dental practice-management models ignore gender differences. They copy management models from other industries - manufacturing, fast food, hotels, sales - and rubber-stamp them onto dentistry.

Years ago, my staff and I attended a high-dollar, year-long management program for dental offices. Like a cookie cutter, it stamped out its rigid recommendations. I ended up frustrated and my staff was unhappy. Looking back on that experience, I understand why. It sought to standardize our behavior and attempted to create single-file solutions. Additionally, it failed to point out that men and women need different paths to reach their common practice goals. The men and women of dentistry perform and succeed for their own reasons.

Viva la difference!

Recognizing and appreciating our differences - not struggling against or being punished for our differences - are the keys to practice harmony. Let`s look at a few examples.

Dr. Davis is a master reconstructive dentist. His work is very demanding. By the end of the day, he is physically and emotionally drained. When the last patient leaves at the end of the day, he goes into his office and flips through a few journals. Then, without a word to anyone, he disappears out the back door.

His staff is exhausted, too.When they see him leave without a word to anyone, they think that something is wrong. They worry about his behavior:

"Is he mad at us?"

"Did we do something wrong?"

"Is he going to fire us?"

They become suspicious of what he may be thinking and assume the worst. Staff morale suffers and, by the end of every week, the stress is suffocating. Everyone thinks something is terribly wrong.

Normal behavior

The fact is nothing is wrong. A Mars/Venus consultant would explain that it`s normal for a Martian dentist to withdraw when stressed. Dr. Davis appreciates and respects his staff, but lacks the capacity to express his feelings when stressed. Withdrawal is his coping mechanism, and the staff should not interpret his withdrawal as a negative action. By recognizing and appreciating his need to withdraw, the staff will not feel threatened by his behavior. Dr. Davis should reassure his staff that there is nothing to worry about when he slips out the back door at the end of the day. Now, staff members can use their energy to help each other without fearing for their jobs.

Here`s another example. Dr. Allen is exhausted by the constant breakdown in staff performance. Things will be going along fine until staff issues pop up and create havoc. The clinical staff will complain about the receptionist, and the office manager will start a war with the scheduler. The doctor will convene a staff meeting, bring in a consultant, lay down the law, and things seem to settle down. Two weeks later, problems reappear. To Dr. Allen, it seems impossible to level out the emotions and performance of his staff. He wants consistency and worries that something is wrong with his leadership.

Oceans of emotions

There is nothing wrong with Dr. Allen`s leadership. A Mars/Venus consultant would explain to him that the emotions and behavior of his Venusian staff will perpetually rise and fall like the waves in the ocean. You see, on Venus, it`s common knowledge that Venusians may suddenly experience a host of unexplained emotions. They may spontaneously feel hopeless and unsupported. But soon after they reach an emotional bottom, they can rise up and begin to radiate support to all.

A Martian dentist will burn out trying to enforce an office environment based on level emotions. Instead, he should recognize and appreciate that, from time to time, emotional waves will rise and crash around him. Smart leadership means not trying to calm the waves or getting caught up in them. Smart leadership means supporting, not struggling with, emotional issues.

Patient management is strongly influenced by Mars/Venus principles.

For example, Dr. Green prides himself on staying on schedule and his staff knows that running late is his pet peeve. Mrs. Chambers is seated for three crown preparations. As Dr. Green is about to give the anesthetic, his chairside assistant, Lisa, says, "Excuse me for a second; I`ve got to get one thing." She returns in a minute, which seems like an eternity to Dr. Green. In a disapproving tone of voice he says, "Lisa, have the room set up on time, every time - understood?"

What Mrs. Chambers understands is that Dr. Green is capable of talking to her in the same disapproving tone. What`s worse is that the trust Dr. Green seeks most from his patients is lost. A Mars/Venus consultant would tell Dr. Green that the way he treats the women around him signals to many of his Venusian patients the way he is capable of treating them. Whereas a Martian patient may appreciate Dr. Green`s directness and punctuality, a Venusian patient may see it as a threat to her. No woman likes to see another woman mistreated.

Most of the problems in dentistry stem from breakdowns in relationships among the dentists, staff members, and patients. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a work originally intended to help the men and women communicate in their romantic relationships and domestic arrangements, has much to offer in the dental office.

Traditionally, our profession has tried to solve its problems by improving procedures and clinical quality. The belief has been that if we can treat at higher and higher levels of clinical excellence, then life for dentistry`s practitioners will improve. What we`re learning is that we`ve had it backwards for all these years! When the lives and relationships of dentistry`s practitioners improve, we become capable of treating at higher and higher levels of clinical excellence.

If you would like to have information about "Mars and Venus in the Dental Office Work Shops," fax your letterhead with the words, "Mars/Venus in the Dental Office," to (704) 342-4995. These workshops are ideal for the entire dental team, for study clubs, association meetings, and private seminars, and are approved by Dr. Gray.

Key principles of Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus

Here is snapshot of the key principles of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. At least 90 percent of more than 25,000 individuals questioned have recognized themselves in these principles and descriptions.

(1) Men and women are supposed to be different. John Gray, Ph.D., explains in great detail the differences between men and women - how we think, communicate, and react. The differences are so great, he says, it`s like men and women are from different planets; hence, the metaphor, "Men are from Mars and women are from Venus."

(2) Conflicts between men and women start when we forget our differences and expect the opposite sex to be more like ourselves.

We expect the opposite sex to "want what we want" and "feel the way we feel." When they don`t, we become demanding, resentful, judgmental, and intolerant. Most of us never learned relationship skills from our parents. Conse-quently, we are unable to successfully manage the conflicts.

(3) When men and women are able to identify, respect, and accept their differences, then love has a chance to blossom.

Dr. Gray offers us remarkable clarity into managing our differences. Lasting relationships result from first solving our minor problems, which leads the way to solving greater problems. Through discovering creative solutions, we Martians and Venusians learn how to love and support the people we care about, and succeed in getting what we want in return.

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