By: JoAnn Lauterbach
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Strengthen your Communication to Strengthen your Practice
What comes to mind when you hear “Woman in Dentistry”? Think of one word, an adjective, and write it down in this blank space, _________________________. Likely, you’re a woman who works in dentistry and I’d wager that our words differ. But before we get to that, you should know that my experience with women in dentistry spans decades. Decades of conversing with my eyes, mouth open wide while reclining way back! I am not a woman in dentistry; I am a woman in communication.
I remember the evening I realized that my word was likely different to your word. I was dining al fresco in Toronto during the hot summer of 2018, listening to a few female dentists chat. One said, “I know I’m the Boss and yet I’m afraid to sound Bossy!” Another chimed in with, “What about those older male patients who are aggressive? Have you ever felt bullied by a patient?” Yet another agreed with a sigh and added, “I catch myself apologizing and avoiding eye contact during certain treatment cost discussions and staff appraisals…. those are the worst!”
I was surprised.
I was intrigued.
I wasn’t used to seeing accomplished dentists as the business people they are too.
I mused to myself that if I substituted a few choice words, I could easily have been listening to successful Bay Street professionals. It was then that I realized how similar these dentists’ challenges were to other business owners and corporate professionals I work with. It reinforced my belief that irrespective of our chosen profession, we’re all in the business of communicating.
Why? Because it’s hard to get people to do what you want them to do. Whether they’re in your chair or booking your appointments. It’s also hard to know how your verbal and non-verbal cues influence the way people hear you. Whether you’re reluctantly discussing treatment costs with a patient or providing tough feedback to someone on your team. Finally, it’s all too easy to dismiss communication as a soft skill that you’re already good at.
But communication is complicated. Complicated by gender, by socialization and by our habits, to mention a few. Even though gender differences in communication are well documented, recently I found myself gasping as I read an article on how some female entrepreneurs experience gender bias from their own employees. 1 Their own employees!
Within dentistry, studies conducted by Gorter, Bleeker & Freeman reveal that male rather than female dentists had easier communication and working interactions with their dental nurses. They found that females experience difficulties in finding a balance between establishing professional authority and being friends with their dental nurse. Male dentists, on the other hand, who operated more strictly within a hierarchical framework, experienced fewer difficulties 2
What’s a woman in dentistry to do, you may ask. My advice, learn to apply Communication CPR to become more intentional with your language to increase your impact. Think: More Intentional = More Influential. Applying CPR requires you to Name your Challenge, Prepare to Message and then Respond in the moment with Intent. Let’s break it down.
What are your key communication challenges? Consider your interactions in the last few months. Interactions with your patients and also within your team. List your top three challenges below.
With Patients: With Colleagues and/or Staff
Chances are the situations you’ve listed aren’t one-offs. Not ideal! Yet can they be put to better use? Yes, I believe these reoccurring challenges may be key to helping you become more influential. Each reoccurring challenge signifies an opportunity for personal growth and they have also provided you with the experience to craft strong messages to improve similar interactions in the future.
If messaging people was easy, we’d all be incredibly influential. We’d all routinely motivate people to take action. We’d rarely find ourselves repeating requests or resorting to threats to gain compliance. It’s not impossible, but it does require a fundamental shift in the way most of us communicate.
The shift is to put our audiences’ needs ahead of our own and clearly communicate why it’s in their interest to take a particular action. I know this sounds simple and intuitive, but in my experience, it runs counter to the way most of us speak. Try it out by selecting one of your Challenge scenarios from above and write down a message you would love to deliver when faced with this type of scenario in the future.
Now, examine what you just wrote and identify the benefit to your audience by circling it. What about the action you want them to take? Can you circle that too? Is it easy to understand? Your aim is to align their wants to your own. Effective messages are clear, concise and compel action. See if you can enhance your message by using this simple formula to craft strong audience–centered messages.
benefit to audience + action for audience to take .
Once you’ve prepared a strong message and you’re ready for the challenge, your focus shifts to delivering confidently. Effective messages lose their power when poor language choices interfere. Many of us default to diminishing language when faced with challenging conversations we’d rather not have. We try to soften our requests because of our discomfort by prefacing what we say with words like just, perhaps, maybe, I’m not 100% sure etc. Is it any surprise that our audiences find us less than persuasive in these situations?
Pay attention to the words you use, you may or may not be aware of habits you’ve developed over time that undermine your ability to influence others to act. Use the building blocks below to intentionally make assertive (not aggressive) language choices.
Projecting confidence and being persuasive depends on your non-verbal choices too. Your aim is to reinforce the meaning of your words with intentional non-verbal communication. We run the risk of losing our audiences when we lack expression or contradict our words with confusing non-verbal cues. This can take many forms, such as distracting body language, poor eye contact or an unassuming voice. Use the building blocks below to intentionally make assertive (not aggressive) non-verbal language choices.
You, the woman in dentistry, are also a woman in communication. I am convinced that when you apply CPR to your communication you will become more intentional and by extension, more influential. Here are three ways you can get started today. 1. Review your challenges and prepare messages. 2. Seek to influence someone using an audience-centered message. 3. Become aware of your language habits by soliciting constructive feedback. My word to describe women in dentistry, in case you were wondering, is courageous.
- Fast Company 10/10/2018 https://www.fastcompany.com/90241898/these-women-entrepreneurs-faced-gender-bias-from-their-own-employees
- BRITISH DENTAL JOURNAL VOLUME 201 NO. 3 AUG 12 2006 , pg 159-164
JoAnn Lauterbach is a Communication Specialist based in Toronto. She helps individuals and teams communicate more clearly and blogs random thoughts on communication at .