31 Jul Marcie’s Mindfulness Moment | Empathy in the Dental Practice
Empathy is the art of listening, offering support, and trying to vicariously experience the feelings of another-despite maybe not feeling the same way yourself- all without judgment. It is not: offering advice, trying to make the situation different, telling them what they’ve done wrong, trying to diffuse, and it is not agreeing with them. Empathy is listening for their feelings and their needs with presence- all the while, without compromising your own. You allow yourself to be fully engaged with the other and truly and simply, listen. This is an extremely valuable skill to develop to enhance your relationships, especially in the dental office setting.
Take for example, a situation that most of us have experienced: how many times has a patient started off their visit with something like this: “No offense, Doc (RDH, Assistant, OM), but I really hate the dentist.”? And how many of us internally roll our eyes and think to ourselves, “great, this is going to be fun!”? How often has this phrase triggered us into a judgment loop about the patient or how the appointment is going to go? How have you responded to that statement? Does it dictate how you feel during your time with the patient for the procedure? How many times can we be told the patient hates us before we start to take it personally?
What if we could look at this situation a little differently? What if next time, we greet Mr. Smith with a smile and a listening ear, and when he says that magical phrase again… what we hear instead is “Hi, Doc, I’m very nervous today, and I am not feeling myself. I’m terrified of the possible pain, and I am worried that I will panic and not know how to handle myself; and I could feel totally embarrassed. I really need you to be flexible that I may need more time in the chair, and I’d love a little compassion and understanding if I have a hard time. Please communicate with me about all that you are going to do today and be gentle with me so I feel safe. And if I ask you to stop, I need to be reassured that you will stop.” Do you think we would respond in quite the same fashion as we did before? Isn’t it possible that “No offense, Doc, but I really hate the dentist.” is far easier to say than it is to express the vulnerability the patient is actually feeling?
I challenge you to translate that magical sentence into something more telling and to look at it as a chance to connect with your patient on a much deeper level to build trust. Maybe next time you are greeted with that sentiment, you can respond with a version of this: “It’s so nice to see you, Mr. Smith. Are you feeling anxious about being here today? …wait for answer…Would you like some reassurance that I will take things slowly, let you know what I’m doing, and agree to pause at your request?” I can almost see the patient’s shoulders relax, hear a large breath of relief, and feel the air lighten around the operatory. That appointment is going to be magical today, I just know it! Try it- and let me know how it goes!
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