Improving verbal skills with scripts: general rules, administrative phrases

Nov. 1, 2008
I have been fortunate to spend time with a very wide variety of dental educators.

by Mark Murphy, DDS

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I have been fortunate to spend time with a very wide variety of dental educators. Through the years, I had a habit of taking notes and jotting down phrases that others said, and often the words morphed into my own voice because it didn't seem right to say things exactly the way they said them. I was unknowingly creating a library of scripts. My staff and I added our own, and eventually we had a small book of useful ways to say things. Today, when I lecture on communication skills, these scripts are included in the electronic handouts provided.

Scripts are GOOD and scripts are BAD

If scripts are used as a starting point, your feelings on the topic are congruent, and you are allowed to find your own voice in them … they work. When scripts are to be memorized and rehearsed, so that you "say" the right thing even if you are not fully supportive or comfortable with those words, you will sound insincere. Scripts can become a crutch that we become dependent on, and they weaken our own interpersonal skills. They are a tool, a place to start. They are a framework for discussion about how we might respond to common situations that arise.

In part one of these articles, I will list a sampling of general rules and administrative phrases that we have found useful. Many thanks to all of the folks I took notes from over the last 25–plus years.

Don't let the few make the rules for the masses. Try not to design policies toward the 5% of patients who violate normal relations. It may be seen as negative by the rest of your better clients. Spend time and energy developing systems that serve your best patients.

Praise people ... criticize deeds. Remember to direct compliments and positive remarks toward the person, and do it publicly. Direct critical comments or corrections privately and refer to the action, not the individual — patients, staff, friends, and family.

Try to use people's names appropriately and pronounce them correctly. Everyone loves to hear his or her own name.

Tell ... show ... do. If you teach someone something, try this age–old method. It is still effective today.

Tell people what you are going to do. Tell them that you are doing it, and then tell them what you have done. It seems people are much more likely to remember and appreciate something if they hear it three times, three times, three times. This is used in advertising all the time, all the time, all the time.

In handling a situation that requires you to be sympathetic but where you need to redirect a patient's energy and emotion, you can respond first with, "I know exactly how you feel; I have felt that way myself. I have found that if I feel/felt/ ..."

When you have to explain a policy or procedural change that clients may not initially support, try saying something like: "Yes, I know we used to do it that way, but current research has led us to improve our methods for your benefit. This is what we are currently doing ..."

Sell the benefit first.. Patients want to know what is in it for them … not you! "In order to help keep our fees lower and save you money, we have begun to accept your portion of the fee at the time of service. This reduces the number of statements we send out each month, and we pass those reduced accounting cost savings on to you."

Inform before you perform ... no surprises! If you start explaining why something else needs to be done after a procedure has started, it may sound like you are making excuses. If you briefly discuss the contingencies that may arise beforehand, it will seem more reasonable.

"Unfortunately, the insurance coverage that your employer has purchased for you doesn't cover that procedure very well." Remember, the employer could have purchased a better plan. It is not really the insurance company's fault.

We are proud of our fees; they reflect the level of dedication, skill, care, and training that our patients have come to expect from us.

This is a small sample we have accumulated. Have fun with these and use them to start a team meeting that focuses on common uncomfortable situations and discussions that patients present. How can and should we respond to them?

Find your voice. Use good tools to develop your own mental scripts.

Mark Murphy, DDS, is the director of professional relations for Mercer Advisors and a former Pankey Institute faculty member. He practices part time in Rochester, Mich., and lectures internationally on clinical and management topics. You may contact Dr. Murphy by e–mail at [email protected] or visit

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