Silent Communication Skills
by Dr. Wade I. Newman
Throughout my childhood, I wanted to be a police officer. Visions of capturing criminals, helping people during times of crisis, having a badge and uniform and wearing a gun…all these thoughts and images steered me in the law enforcement direction. I earned a B.S. in Administration of Justice and was hired by a police department in Central Pennsylvania right after graduation. The training was tough, a thorough mix of discipline, academics and vigorous exercise. A theme that traversed the entire training process for everyone involved developing the skill of getting people to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. Having that skill is by far the most important aspect of police work and that skill is also very useful in dentistry.
During my tenure as a police officer, I happened to break the mesial buccal cusp of #3. My dentist informed me I needed a crown, which then turned necrotic so I had endodontic therapy through the crown. (What fun!) That experience started me down the dental road, which led to full mouth orthodontics with a bilateral split osteotomy (corrected a class III bite). Seeing the results of all this work made me realize that dentistry was my true calling. I wanted to make people feel the way I felt (and still feel) about their smiles. The training was tough, a thorough mix of discipline, academics and vigorous…academics. The importance of clinical skills cannot be underrated, but getting people to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it is still crucial to the success of a dental practitioner.
The psychology and communication skills needed to have patients accept and trust you are briefly touched upon in dental school. I have found that I needed to tap into what I had been previously taught to truly relate to all levels of people. Reading body language and interpreting not only what people say but also how they say it is critical in the doctor/patient relationship. These silent communication skills are not easily taught, but through constant awareness they can be learned and refined. Knowing that a patient is nervous before anything is said, knowing when they are hearing you but not listening to what you’re saying, taking cues from them as to the pitch and tone of their voice are all things that will aid in establishing a good long-term doctor/patient relationship.
There are many articles and CE courses designed around case acceptance. Once a doctor/patient relationship is founded on trust and mutual respect, the case acceptance rate is very high. I use these silent communication skills to develop the trust and respect prior to any conversation regarding needed treatment.
Of course I had the benefit of needing to practice the silent communication skills as part of my job as a police officer. Dealing with people who were anxious, mad, angry, hurt or happy was an everyday occurrence. In dentistry it is almost the same – more anxious and happy versus the mad and angry, although you are sure to encounter every type eventually. Be sure to obtain a book or two in regards to this area of dentistry to help you on your way to a successful dental career, or any career, for that matter.