Are you listening?

Dentistry is a fast-paced, challenging industry and, as managers, we are faced with different obstacles each day. How we deal with these challenges reflects not only on our professionalism but the general well-being and running of our organisation.

Successful management requires a mixture of good communication and organisational skills, but more importantly it also requires listening skills too. This is probably the simplest factor in successful dental management, but can be the hardest to achieve.

Listening accurately to a patient allows you to address their individual needs, fears and concerns. It also allows you to understand their opinion about your services, and find out if there are any gaps in them that need to be filled to give patients exactly what they want.

But effective listening can only be acquired if there are three key factors in place – a positive attitude, time and respect.

A positive attitude needs to be at play when you want to hear what the other person is saying. Listening as a skill can be learned, but having a positive attitude can be harder to put in place. If you want to be a better listener and create a more successful team and relationship with your clients, you have to make a conscious decision to do so. Realising the value of listening is the first step to being successful at it.

Having the time to listen is one of the hardest but most important issues for many managers. We don’t ever seem to have enough of it so if you are lacking time, be honest. A patient would much rather make an appointment with you when you can give them your full attention than communicate with you when you are preoccupied.

Respect the other person and their opinions, without becoming defensive. When engaging in conversation, or listening to someone, it is important to understand and value their opinions.

There are two core listening skills which can be applied here and these are passive and active listening.

Passive listening: This gives you the chance to encourage a patient to give you as much information about their desires as possible, so that you can determine their needs and the approaches for satisfying them.

Asking open-ended questions allows you to make the client feel comfortable in conversation as it shows your interest, but they are also key for a manager as they show what the patient really needs from you and your practice.

Active listening: This is key when dealing with irritated or difficult patients, as it helps to calm and reassure them. It is a way of feeding back the information the patient has given you, ensuring you have heard accurately but also satisfying them that you have understood.

In summary, there are ten key steps to effective listening:

• Focus your mind on the speaker and clear away any internal distractions

• Take notes of key points and return to these points when appropriate

• Cut out as many distractions and interruptions as possible

• Respond to the speaker’s total message, not only what they are saying but to the tone of their voice, body language and emotions

• Do not judge while listening, but be empathic and non-judgemental. You can be accepting and respectful of the person, their feelings and beliefs without invalidating or giving up your own position, or agreeing with the accuracy and validity of their view

• Keep an open mind when you are listening

• Do not think about how you will respond or what you will say in return, as you will not be listening properly

• If you find you are not listening, refocus and change your body position to make it more conducive to listening

• Listen for ideas, not facts – ask yourself what they mean

• Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your ‘solutions’

By using the single most successful tool in management you can become a strong business leader and open up a new spectrum of potential – not only in yourself but your dental team too. You will create a strong and enthusiastic team, and find patients accepting premium dental treatment.

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