The art of communication

Nov. 1, 2002
Excellent communication takes place between two people when the message sent by the speaker is interpreted correctly by the listener.

Cathy Jameson, PhD

Excellent communication takes place between two people when the message sent by the speaker is interpreted correctly by the listener. Obviously, both of these skills — listening and speaking — are critical for the flow of communication to work.

Every business day, each member of your dental team has the opportunity to move a relationship with a patient further along ... or to bring that relationship to a stop! Additionally, how each team member speaks to the patient can make the difference in whether or not he or she accepts treatment. Possessing excellent communication skills is one of the most effective ways to take your practice to a new level of success and productivity.

The goals of good communication are:
1) To deliver the message in a way that patients will want to listen to what you have to say
2) To deliver the message in the best possible manner
3) To determine if the patient understood what you said correctly

Three specific factors determine whether a patient will want to listen to your message:
1 Self-interest
2 Who is speaking
3 How the message is sent

Self-interest refers to what motivates a person to do, be, or want something. Will the information be useful, fulfilling, and/or beneficial to the patient? Will the end result be productive from the patient's point of view?

For example, if you try to tell people what's good for them, they probably won't buy it. People must see how a product or service applies to them and how it will benefit their particular situation. In other words, they want to know "what's in it for me."

Who is speaking refers to the trust factor. Does the person receiving the message trust the person sending the message? Your initial contact with a patient is crucial to the success of your relationship. Patients need to know what your intentions are before they can or will trust you. You must answer unasked questions: "Are you for me?"; "Will you help me?" "What will happen if I let you in?" and "Will you take advantage of me?"

People decide if they will trust you in two ways — emotionally and intellectually. Most decisions are made emotionally. Even though most people try to make a decision based on fact, the process is filtered through their emotions. A level of trust must be established before you can gain another person's confidence.

How the message is sent refers to how effective you are at getting your message across to the listener. Sixty percent of the perception of a message is influenced by body language, 30 percent is based on tone of voice, and only 10 percent is interpreted by the actual words that are spoken. So, the way you deliver your message may have more impact than the actual message itself.

We also know that people respond more effectively to visual messages than to auditory messages. Approximately 83 percent of a person's learning takes place visually. Therefore, supporting your information with visual aids (such as images taken with an intraoral camera) will enhance and clarify your message. This allows the listener to be involved with the communication, and involvement is an important key to learning and understanding.

The study of communication skills may be one of your greatest challenges, but it also may become one of your greatest assets. Follow what I call "The Four P's of Professionalism" as you develop confidence in communicating effectively: 1) preplan, 2) practice, 3) perfect, and 4) perform. Soon, you will own these skills and feel more comfortable communicating.

Cathy Jameson, PhD, is president of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental lecture and consulting firm. She has been a featured speaker for major dental meetings throughout the world and is an adjunct faculty member of the Oklahoma University School of Dentistry and an associate professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. Her books, Great Communication = Great Production and Collect What You Produce are top sellers for PennWell Books. Contact Dr. Jameson at (580) 369-5555, or email cathy@jamesonmanage

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