5 Feb 2016  •  Practice Management  •  7min read By  • Sheila Scott

How to Communicate Effectively With Your Dental Team

Sheila Scott, one of the dental industry’s leading business consultants, talks about how to communicate effectively with your dental team.

The following extract summarises research conducted by Fadel Matta at Michigan State University, and has one of those stunningly obvious conclusions, making for interesting reading.
(Originally published in People Management, January 2015.)

‘You don’t have to get on with your boss’

In a nutshell

A motivated employee knows what they can expect from their manager – even if they expect little support, no recognition and rushed direction. Research led by Fadel Matta at Michigan State University found that employees were motivated when both they and their supervisor thought they had an understanding of what was required from each party, regardless of whether they enjoyed each other’s company.

‘It’s about expectations,’ says Matta. ‘I expect my boss to provide support and to give me additional beneficial resources at work. But when the boss doesn’t see things the same way, they’re not giving it to me. Whether I know it or not, it really is a toxic situation.’

Why does it matter?

Matta says it’s important for employees to have similar expectations: ‘It’s not about being in good relationships with everybody. It’s about being on the same page.’

If you’re aware of a manager and an employee who seem to have an unbalanced relationship, talking to them about their expectations may be more beneficial than forcing them to become friends.

‘It’s not saying, “Hey, you guys need to agree on what your relationship says.”’ adds Matta. ‘It’s about saying, “We need to agree on what you’re doing for this employee, what they’re doing for you and how we get those expectations aligned in the best way.”

[blockquote cite=”Sheila Scott” type=”center”]Great managers take every opportunity to very specifically outline what they need, want and expect from staff.[/blockquote]

Some managers and practice owners reading the text will heave a sigh of relief that it doesn’t really matter if dental team members don’t like them. Maybe now they can get on with tackling Sadie’s absence problem, or Paula’s sharp tone, or even Nadia’s slight unwillingness to help anybody else out when the chips are down, without their current fear of upset. Maybe they’ll finally start asking for what they need of staff, even when they fear that their requests will be unpalatable.

Matta’s evidence underlines that if managers/owners were to just stop worrying about having to give a little tricky appraisal in a day-to-day situation, and instead give some useful background information to team members, they might find it easier to get on with their jobs. It’s official. Being ‘clear’ sure beats ‘niceness’.

It’s difficult to be clear though!

When we ask somebody to do something, we know exactly what we’re talking about. We have our own pictures in our heads to illustrate our words, and we know what all the words mean. We forget that the pictures attached to these same words may well be different for somebody else, and may well mean something completely different.

Take the seemingly innocuous, commonly used phrase ‘You’re a really good communicator’ – or at the opposite and more frequently heard end of the scale, ‘You need to improve your communication skills’.

What are you really talking about?

Which of the 25 or so communication skills or abilities I’ve used since I walked into the practice this morning are you talking about? Are you saying my phrasing needs to be better, or I need to listen or look into the eyes of patients more? Is it my body language? My tone? Presenting my request as a fait accompli? Is it just that I’m not using the right words to describe what will happen in the next appointment?

You see, when you just discuss my ‘communication skills’ I will, in the absence of any detailed information, decide for myself just exactly which aspect of my communication you are criticising. And I will also decide whether or not I will actually take any steps to ‘improve’. You may have meant that I need to listen to patients more, give them time to explain what’s on their minds and answer their questions.

I may interpret the ‘communication skills’ you are talking about as a need to explain the same scenario in even more detailed language, meaning I will talk even faster and more forcefully to the patient next time.

I may take that action and think that I have taken huge steps to improve my communication skills, but you overhear and decide that I am deliberately taking steps to do even more of the very thing you (thought you had) asked me NOT to do!

The result?

Not what you expected. More frustration, confusion and demotivation for me; poorer relationship between us and certainly not the change in my behaviour that you expected! As Matta found in his research, the answer is to be much clearer, much more specific in your description of what I was doing (wrong), and what I need to be doing better in future. You need to make sure I understand exactly what you need me to do, and even better, if you can encourage me to decide for myself exactly what I am going to do, so much the better.

So, instead of discussing my ‘communication skills’, please do tell me if it’s my speaking, writing or listening that needs attention. Tell me if it’s my tone, my words, my speed of speech, the facial expressions that accompany the words. Describe exactly what I do, and explain clearly why it’s not hitting the mark. Then we can talk about what I can do to be more effective.

Great managers take every opportunity to very specifically outline what they need, want and expect from staff, discussing these needs, wants and expectations regularly. They find they have happier, more confident people working for them, and they delegate time-consuming tasks much more effectively. It may take a few more minutes to communicate these expectations, but they do get fantastic results, and much happier teams.

So instead of worrying about my reaction, discuss what you’ve observed in great detail, point out what effect you’d like me to have as well as the effect you observed, and ask me what steps I can take to do things better. I will appreciate your attention, and I may even thank you for helping me.

About the author

Sheila provides business support for Practice Plan. To find out more about her consultancy services visit our website here


Get all blogs delivered to your inbox

By subscribing to our blog, you agree to receiving our monthly blog update and newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time. The security of your personal data is very important to us and we will never sell your data to other companies. You can read more about how we protect your information and your rights by reading our privacy notice.