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Develop rapport with patients

Aug. 1, 2009
Success in dentistry is partly determined by the choices you make. What isn't well understood is that your success is primarily determined by other people's choices about you.

by Nate Booth, DDS

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: comprehensive case acceptance, trust, rapport, likability, Dr. Nate Booth.

Success in dentistry is partly determined by the choices you make. What isn't well understood is that your success is primarily determined by other people's choices about you. Do others want to work with you? Do they want to be your patients? Do they want to accept high quality dental care from you? Do they refer family and friends to you?

If you connect well with people, the answers to these questions are, “Yes, yes, yes, and yes.” If you do only basic dentistry, you can have low levels of connection with patients and your relationships will be fine. If you want to do more comprehensive dentistry, you will need to create higher levels of connection with genuine liking, trust, and rapport.

“Life is giving. Life is receiving. In short, life is being connected.” — Tijn Touber


It's a fact of life. People do business with people they like. Think of the person who does your hair. Do you like the person? The answer is probably yes.

It's possible that you don't like the person, but are a customer because the person is a fantastic hair stylist. But people don't often do business with people they don't like.

Six ways to increase the likeability of your practice team

  • HIRE likeable people.
  • GIVE compliments to your team on a regular basis and encourage them to compliment patients.
  • THANK your patients for their loyalty and encourage your team to do the same.
  • SMILE. Tiger Woods has a great smile. It's one reason he earns more than $100 million a year off the golf course.
  • USE POSITIVE words and phrases such as “absolutely,” “yes,” “I'll be responsible for getting that done,” and “it would be my pleasure.”
  • SHOW INTEREST in your patients' lives. When you greet patients, talk about personal things first. Do your dentistry. Then talk about personal things before you part company.


Lack of trust is one of the primary barriers for people to accept implant dentistry. They must have high levels of trust in you as a clinician and a person. Here are four ways to be more trustworthy:

  1. Under-promise and over-deliver. Trust is created when people's experiences exceed their expectations.
  2. Tell the truth. This is an oldie but goodie. Don't shade or stretch the truth. It will come back to haunt you.
  3. Don't be pushy. This is one of the main ways I see dentists lowering the trust factor with patients. Don't push. Discover what patients want and then give them what they want in the way they want dental care. Be a friend and consultant. Treat them the way you would want to be treated.
  4. Relax. This could take a while. Some people are slow to accept comprehensive dentistry. Maybe it's lack of knowledge or trust, fear, inconvenience, or cost that are barriers to proceeding with care. Just relax and take great care of your patients until they're ready to say yes to comprehensive care.


Rapport is created by a feeling of commonality. The English language confirms this. When you have rapport with people, you're “on the same wavelength” or you're “in sync.” Many dentists blow rapport by trying too hard to be the “all-knowing, all-seeing guru of all things dental.” Their case acceptance philosophy is, “I'm the expert. Here are your problems. Here's what I think you should do.” They unconsciously place themselves on a higher plane than their patients.

Resist the temptation to play god. Get on the same wavelength with your patients with these five actions:

1 Discover things you have in common with people and have short conversations about these commonalities. Use the information that a member of your team discovered on the first phone call. When in doubt, talk about the weather or local news.2 Encourage your front office people to come out from behind the desk to greet people as the walk in the door. This can go for you, too. Release yourself from the inner sanctum of the clinical area and wander out and talk to folks in the reception area. They'll love it.3 Match their conversational style. If you're speaking to introverted people who talk softly and slowly, match their style and talk softly and slowly with them. Their brains will unconsciously think, “Ah, a friend.” The same goes for your extroverted patients who talk loudly and quickly with a lot of hand gestures. Be extroverted with them. Their brains will unconsciously shout, “This person is on the ball!”
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4 Enter their worlds. If you see people struggling with justifying the investment in implant dentistry, enter their world by saying, “It looks like you're wondering if the implant dentistry investment will be worth it. Do you mind if I tell you what I hear from our other patients?” If they seemed perplexed with all their options in replacing missing teeth, enter their world by commenting, “You seem a little confused with all the options for replacing your teeth. Would you like me to clarify the options?”5 Use the Connection Responder. Sometimes we create mini confrontations when we respond to patients who make emotional comments. Here's an example. You quote a fee for $15,000 and the patient says, “Wow, $15,000! That's a lot of money!”

Don't say, “I'm sorry you say that. We're proud of our fees. We use only the best lab and the finest materials to create the best restorations possible. We've taken numerous advanced restorative dentistry training programs so that we're experts at doing the crowns and onlays you need.”

That creates a mini confrontation, doesn't it? The patient says, “That's a lot of money!” You counter with, “No it's not. If you knew everything involved, you wouldn't have that opinion.” While your reply may be true, it disconnects you from the person.

Instead, use the Connection Responder. When the patient says, “Wow, $15,000! That's a lot of money!” say “I agree. $15,000 is a lot of money. And when those implants hold your upper and lower dentures firmly in place, it will be worth it.”

Here's another example. A patient calls and says, “I'm afraid to come to a dentist. I haven't been in nine years, but I have a broken and hurting tooth.” Don't say, “There's no need to worry. Our office caters to cowards. Everything will be fine.” Instead, use the Connection Responder and say, “I understand your situation. We have many patients who tell us that at first. And after they experience our level of care, their fears vanish. I'm going to tell everyone in our office your situation, and we'll take extra-special care of you when you visit us.”

Here is another example. A patient comes to the front desk and blurts, “I'm really upset with you guys. You said this was going to happen, and it didn't!” Don't say, “I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding.” Do say, “I appreciate your bringing that up. And let's sit down and straighten this out right now.”

In these examples, the first responses disconnected you from the patients. They created mini confrontations. What did the Connection Responders do? Instead of separations, they created bridges that included the best verbal connection word on the planet — and.

There are hundreds of situations at work and in your personal life where you can use the Connection Responder. Just remember its three parts:

  1. “I agree and . . . . .”
  2. “I understand and . . . . .”
  3. “I appreciate and . . . . .”


The first stage of Comprehensive Case Acceptance is interest. People in your community become interested in you through patient referrals and your internal and external marketing. The third stage is understanding, which will be the topic of my next column. Until then, form solid connections with your patients. Your success depends on it.

Dr. Nate Booth is a speaker, consultant, and author who provides dentists with the information and systems they need to thrive in their dental practices. He teaches at the South Beach Dental Institute and is a practice management advisor for ChaseHealthAdvance. He is the creator of the in-office, DVD-based program, The “Yes” System: How to Make It Easy for People to Accept Comprehensive Dentistry. For more information, go to, or call (800) 917-0008.

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