Howard Speaks: ‘Soft Skills’ Can Be Hard! by Dr. Howard Farran

Howard Speaks: ‘Soft Skills’ Can Be Hard! 

by Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, publisher, Dentaltown magazine


A lot of us were drawn to dentistry because it offers us the chance to practice such a unique blend of medical science and art—identifying the physiological cause of a patient’s distress and creating the most aesthetically pleasing solution available.

To make sure we’re at the top of our game, we spend hours each year developing our clinical skills through practice and continuing education. But are you forgetting to also focus on how well you communicate with patients?

Don’t neglect the doctor-patient connection
I can’t believe how many dentists I meet who claim they’re “just not a people person.” This is a mystifying declaration to make, and definitely not something to be proud of: If you expect to succeed in this field, your communication and interpersonal skills must be on point. I don’t care if you’re the biggest introvert on Earth—when you step into the office, you’ve got to make positive connections with your patients. The mouths you’re working on are attached to people, and you wouldn’t be working on them unless those people make appointments, show up in your practice and trust you enough to accept recommended treatment.

The phrase soft skills seems almost pejorative—like they’re “less than” hard skills—but being fluent in communication, empathy and emotional intelligence is essential for success in an industry that relies on patient relationships. If you come off as cold or unfriendly, patients are less likely to accept your treatment recommendations, especially if the treatments come with a higher price tag. They also won’t be inclined to refer friends to your office—heck, they might not even return themselves!

Last year, the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation published a study about a survey that asked patients how their dentists could improve their practice. In the top two responses, more than 80% of patients agreed that it would be helpful if:

  1. “The dentist would tell me the condition of all my teeth, not just the ones that require treatment.” (86.3%)
  2. “The dentist had a conversation with me at the start of the appointment about what will happen.” (81.5%)
To you, these talks might sound unnecessary, but to patients they’re among the most important things you could do!

Don’t drive away your team, either!

It’s not just patients who need and deserve great communication with you—think about your team, too.

Just this morning, a hygienist told me about a friend who applied for a position at a dental practice in the town she’d just moved to. The practice was already down one dental assistant and on the day the hygienist did her working interview, the other assistant gave her notice too. Later in the day, that assistant took the hygienist aside and confided that everyone was quitting because the dentist was an awful person to work for.

Today, that small-town dentist is down two dental assistants and a hygienist because of subpar managerial and communication skills. Even great practices are having trouble finding and retaining great team members, so don’t further tank your chances by letting word of mouth get out among a tight candidate pool that you’re a jerk.

Your soft skills have a huge impact on everyone who helps ensure your practice is successful. Don’t consider them less than essential!

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Email: sally@farranmedia.com
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