It's Not What You Say…

When they think of ideal communication, most people believe that being a clear and articulate speaker is important.

By Rick Workman,DMD, founder and chief executive officer, Heartland Dental

When they think of ideal communication, most people believe that being a clear and articulate speaker is important. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy are known for their famous speeches, but it wasn't just their words that made them great speakers. They possessed something else.

While delivering lean and accurate content is certainly an important part of ideal communication, there is much more involved. There are significant elements of communication that ultimately impact how you are perceived, and more importantly, how people react to your message. Dr. King and JFK spoke with a powerful presence, passionate body language, and confident tone. Because of this, they were able to engage and connect with millions of people from all walks of life. That's what great communicators possess – effective presence, body language, and tone that make their words resonate with their audience.

You don't have to be a world-renowned speaker to possess these traits, but it is critical to understand that we are verbally and nonverbally communicating with others constantly.

Communication is a key component of our personal and professional development. It determines how we are perceived, and in many cases, it will make or break our success. Because of this, it's important to realize that how we say things is often more important than what we say. Dr. Gerald Bell of the Bell Leadership Institute teaches us that great leaders master all aspects of ideal communication. Specifically, he describes the 55-35-10 rule. When communicating, 55% of the audience's focus is on your body language, 35% is on your tone, and 10% is on your words.

For dentists, this rule is vital for effectively communicating with patients and team members. When a new patient visits your office and sits in the dental chair awaiting your arrival, you have one opportunity to make a great first impression. The wrong body language or tone can spoil that. A dentist who doesn't make eye contact, doesn't face the patient, crosses his or her arms, stands too close, or appears disengaged will not inspire confidence in patients.

Likewise, using the wrong tone when communicating can have negative effects. One's tone conveys attitude, whether it is happiness, anger, sarcasm, sincerity, or humor. When body language and tone are used effectively and appropriately, you can quickly build a great relationship with a patient. For example, the information provided to a patient during a treatment plan explanation is important, but the manner in which it is provided is equally important. This will play a crucial role in whether patients ACT on the message you are communicating or "just want to think about it."

The same skills apply when communicating with team members. As the leader of the office, a dentist needs to set the tone for the entire team. Team members look for the dentist to display leadership qualities – confidence, attentiveness, and optimism. A dentist who looks down when speaking, slouches his or her shoulders, or has a detached attitude will emit negativity and insecurity. One can't lead well with that type of presence. Team members won't fully commit to an unconfident leader; a team will follow an authentic leader who has an open, positive, and mentally flexible attitude and behavior. In the end, an engaged, aligned, and excited team will generate superior results.

In many cases, dentists may not be aware they are communicating using harmful body language or tone. But our own perceptions of ourselves are not always in line with how others perceive us. Next time you speak with a patient or team member, I suggest you take the time to evaluate the body language and tone you are consciously and unconsciously using. You may learn about small issues that when improved upon, can make a world of difference in your communication and leadership skills. Many may feel that only nature or extensive professional training will enable this, but all that is needed is a commitment to change.

At Heartland Dental, we ask our affiliated doctors and team members, "Is increasing your lifetime success by 50% worth investing in personal development?" I hope all dental professionals feel that it is. Your patients, practice, and family will all benefit.

Rick Workman, DMD, is founder and chief executive officer of Heartland Dental. After practicing full-time, Dr. Workman created Heartland Dental, a world-class dental support organization offering affiliated dentists nonclinical, administrative support. Heartland Dental has over 535 affiliated dental offices in 26 states. Dr. Workman may be reached at rworkman@heartland.com.

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