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The extraordinary power of emotional intelligence

Oct. 1, 2003
The success of star performers in dentistry comes from more than technical competency. Emotional intelligence is central to successful interactions with patients and team.

by Bob Frazer Jr., DDS, FACD, FICD

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The business literature from Harvard Business Review to MIT's Sloan Management has been filled with the revolutionary findings of David McClelland, Robert Cooper, and Daniel Goleman. Research studies on some 2,800 star performers done by Harvard and Rutgers show that 75 percent of high achievers' success comes from emotional intelligence (EI), while 25 percent comes from necessary technical competency.

Every major discretionary (dental) purchase is first and foremost an emotional decision. Effective leadership of a practice demands emotional competency. Therefore, EI is central to our success.

As a practitioner, speaker, and performance coach for more than 25 years, I have seen a pattern among the dentists and teams with whom we've worked. Often, the most intellectually gifted (high IQ) and technically excellent dentists seem to be on a never-ending journey to elevate their technical competency. But many end up frustrated, sometimes even depressed, as they encounter countless recurring leadership and staff problems. Plus, no matter how much they learn, they can't get most patients to elect their finest service.

At the same time, I encounter good dentists — generally well-trained, often with half the technical training — who have happy, prosperous practices with patients desiring the dentistry they offer. So what gives? I am convinced that one must have technical competency, but the difference — particularly among star performers — is emotional intelligence.

"Emotional intelligence is defined as our capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and our relationships." (Daniel Goleman, Working With Emotional Intelligence, Bantam 1998.) It involves four key domains with a subset of 18 emotional competencies. The four domains are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. (Daniel Goleman, Primal Leadership, Harvard Business Press 2002.) Research has shown with unprecedented precision that unlike IQ, EQ — your emotional quotient — can be raised through emotional competency training and coaching.

Let me illustrate my point with a recent experience. During a visit to one of my new performance coaching clients, I sat in on a case presentation. My client had prepared models, photographs, and a computer-generated treatment plan. The patient, "Kathy," and her husband, "Ed," were welcomed and escorted to the consultation room, where the doctor greeted them warmly and introduced me, the visiting doctor (whom they knew would observe).

They were a healthy looking, casually well-dressed couple in their mid-sixties. This was a second consultation for Kathy in order for Ed to understand his wife's problems and recommended treatment. My doctor/client had recommended full reconstruction beginning with the maxillary teeth. Kathy's primary need when she presented was correction of her appearance from upper second bicuspid to second bicuspid. She had congenitally missing laterals that some years earlier had been replaced with a Maryland Bridge. There was moderate wear on the upper and lower anterior teeth, plus a number of discolored, large, old composites. Kathy was physically attractive, but her smile clearly detracted from her appearance, causing her to look 10 years older. She was soft-spoken and most concerned about the implants that had been recommended.

Ed was quite warm and extroverted. He projected the charisma of a leader. After too short an initial conversation, my client jumped right into Kathy's problems and how they could best be solved with a combination of implants and crowns. When the word implant was mentioned, both Kathy and Ed wrinkled their brows slightly and looked either confused or concerned.

My client was on a roll with her models, photos, and pictures of implants. It was about five minutes before she stopped to ask if her patients understood or had questions. Kathy and Ed were concerned about the surgery and the appearance of implants. My client fielded that technicality quite nicely, then noted that bridges could be used and surgery avoided.

Kathy and Ed liked that idea. But then Ed wanted to know what just the upper dentistry would cost, since he was a little shocked by the total fee for upper and lower implants (approximately $30,000). My client answered that it would cost about $12,000. However, she did not help him understand the fact that the upper needed to couple well with the lower, and without restoring the lower there would be an overcontour of the lingual of the uppers. In turn, this would accelerate wear on the lowers so that within five years, Kathy would have to have the lower restored and the upper reshaped or remade.

Very quickly, a complete reconstruction was degenerating into segmented treatment for only the most visible of problems. My client was unwittingly unselling the case — not because of technical competence (she has extensive postgraduate training), but because of a lack of emotional intelligence. She was not resonating with this couple.

It was obvious to me when Ed and Kathy arrived that they were people of means who valued health and wanted to do what was best. They simply were concerned about surgery, and I sensed they did not want to compromise treatment. How did I know that? Through EI.

Although my purpose was not to enter into the conversation, I couldn't resist! I simply asked to see the models and then asked my doctor/client the implications of not doing the lower teeth at the same time. As she described the negative implication, I watched Kathy and Ed's facial expressions. This was not what they wanted. Then I simply said, "You two strike me as people who want things done once and done well." They nodded in agreement, and I said, "Then it's crucial to do these together." I added that doing both upper and lower together would also add a youthfulness to Kathy's smile and face.

My client later thanked me for saving the case. Much of our coaching work will center on elevating her EQ so that she can raise her awareness of feelings — her own and other's — quickly and respond gracefully in a resonant, understanding, motivating way.

No discussion of emotional intelligence would be complete without visiting its origins. It began about 1970 with the work of Harvard's David McClelland, while exploring the ingredients of superb job performance. At the beginning of the 20th century, Fredrick Taylor had proposed that the best human performance was the measure of human work against the machine. IQ, the capacity of the human mind, soon replaced Taylorism. Following that, personality arose as a key ingredient to excellence, but somehow neither seemed to predict success adequately. Some of the people with the highest IQ and some of the most attractive personalities were dismal underachievers.

McClelland was hired by the State Department to assess the capabilities of the most outstanding diplomats. Selection for a diplomatic post was based largely on tested abilities in areas such as history, cultural understanding, language fluency, or special knowledge in fields like economics. However, the tests did not correlate with success in the field. In fact, many of the best foreign-service people had barely qualified!

McClelland created radically different tests, such as watching snippets of videotapes of people talking about emotional situations or having an argument. He used an electronic filter to alter sounds. What came through were tones and nuances of body language that revealed how a person was feeling. He found that the stars scored much higher than the average diplomat. Daniel Goleman, whose writings were researched for this material, was a graduate student of McClelland. It is Goleman's books — Emotional Intelligence, Working With Emotional Intelligence, and Primal Leadership — that have popularized EI in today's business literature.

McClelland's consulting firm, Hey/McBer, pioneered the research of high performers noted in the first paragraph of this article. Goleman states, "Paradoxically, IQ has the least power in predicting success among that pool of people smart enough to handle the most cognitively demanding fields, and the value of emotional intelligence grows more powerful the higher the intelligence barriers for entry into a field. In careers like engineering, law, or medicine, where professional selection focuses on intellectual abilities, emotional intelligence carries much more weight than IQ in determining who emerges as a leader." (Daniel Goleman, Working With Emotional Intelligence, Bantam 1998)

So what are the basics of emotional intelligence? Validated research says they include the following:

• Knowing your feelings and employing them to make life decisions with which you can live

• The ability to manage your emotional life without being hijacked by it
• Persistence in the face of setbacks while channeling your impulses in order to pursue your goals
• Empathy — reading others' emotions without them having to tell you what they are feeling
• Managing feelings in a relationship with skill and harmony — for example, being able to express the unspoken pulse of another or a group

All of these are essential competencies found in the high-achieving dental professional. Over the next several months, we'll explore the powerful concepts of EI in interactions with patients and team, as well as how to improve your EQ so that you and your team can join the stars of our profession.

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