Connie Hopper asks Dr Barry Oulton for his tips and advice for communicating with your team and your patients…
The number of Fitness to Practise cases regarding communicating effectively are increasing, according to statistics from the GDC. Between 2014 and 2017 there was a 52% increase in these kinds of cases. The figures also showed that 56% of complaints come from patients, which suggests that the remaining 44% comes from colleagues and fellow dental professionals.
In light of this, I asked Dr Barry Oulton, a practising dentist and communications trainer, to share his advice on how to communicate effectively with both your patients and your team…
Connie Hopper (CH): How do you know if you’re communicating effectively or not?
Barry Oulton (BO): The majority of us think that we are great communicators, so when there are signs that our communication with somebody else isn’t working we default to thinking it’s the other person’s fault.
These signs are things like a frown, a scrunched face or raised eyebrow. You can’t predict what that means but you can recognise and react to them by asking, ‘Is everything okay? Am I explaining things well enough? Do you understand your options?’ Good communicators clarify, not assume.
CH: What advice do you have for communicating effectively in a limited amount of time, such as dental professionals do when working within the length of appointments?
BO: I don’t mean to sound blunt, but rule number one is to extend your appointments. Short appointments are usually based on financial restraints. If you were to lengthen our appointments, you would find that you’d be able to communicate more clearly, discuss the options, and, with rapport, you’d find that more patients would be more likely to accept the higher value treatments.
The key is that final point – to make sure you’re in rapport. Rapport can be built in a couple of minutes. If you genuinely don’t know how to build rapport, then go to a training course and learn. It is the most life-changing skill you will ever learn.
CH: What are your three top tips for communicating effectively with patients?
BO: 1) Take your time and listen to your patient so that you can respond appropriately. Learn some communication skills so that you can have a conversation that uncovers why your patient wants a certain treatment and you can make sure that you’re satisfying that deeper need. Start by extending new patient consultations, maybe just once a week to begin with, and then more frequently once you have seen the impact it has.
2) Rapport, rapport, rapport. You can genuinely only communicate effectively when you’re in rapport, so learning how to build it is essential.
3) Learn about the different communication styles: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and auditory-digital. That way you can understand how best to communicate with somebody in their model of the world, not just your own. Because we tend to just use our own style we’re communicating to just one of the four groups really well, but to three out of those four really poorly.
CH: What are your three top tips for communicating effectively with your team?
BO: 1) Have the right shared mind-set. Ask yourself, what the mind-set is that you wish to share as a team? To communicate with your team, you need to all have a similar vision and mission that everyone is able to express, not just the dentist.
2) Again, rapport! It’s vital for successful communication with anybody.
3) Put your phones down. Too many people talk to each other on the phone rather than face-to-face or don’t even talk at all. Show some genuine interest in one another, spend some time together at lunch and turn your phones off.
About Barry :
Dr. Barry Oulton is a practising dentist with over 25 years of experience and the owner of the award- winning Haslemere Dental Centre. Barry is also a Master of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy and runs the ‘The Confident Dentist Academy’ which was created to help dental professionals learn effective communication skills, selling with integrity so they can have more impact and make a bigger difference, both professionally and personally.