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When we think about in-office communication, we usually consider what words we use and the tone of voice we employ.
According to a number of experts in the field of communications, those are often the least important parts.
Consider this scenario: a staff member says in an even tone, “I’m perfectly fine.” However, you notice that her fists are clenched tightly.
Which part of her communication are you going to believe?
Or, you’ve just given a staff person detailed instructions and asked him whether he understands. He says, “Yes, I’ve got it” and nods, but his brow wrinkles and his eyes shift to the side.
Do you really think he’s got it?
By some estimates, nonverbal forms of communication make up at least 55 percent of the content. And the real issue is that much of that nonverbal behavior happens outside of our awareness.
Which means they are communicated to patients and you won’t know it.
Are You a Mind Reader?
Take the two examples above: clenched fists and a wrinkled brow.
What do those mean?
If you don’t ask, you can’t know. But you can – and people do – make a lot of assumptions. Maybe you assume right; the clenched-fist staffer is really frustrated about something, whereas the wrinkled-brow man is just thinking through the details.
Or maybe the woman is experiencing severe pain. And the man is totally confused.
Your assumption will lead to a conclusion. Your patients will make assumptions about the nonverbal behaviors they observe coming from your staff. And, potentially, draw the wrong conclusions. This has the potential to cost you patients and harm your reputation.
The littlest things can foul up communication, and that’s especially true when one party may feel vulnerable and apprehensive – like sitting in a dental chair. Simple things like a sigh, a frown, lack of talkativeness, and even not making eye contact can be interpreted as being rejected or judged.
When patients aren’t comfortable in a dental office, they choose another dentist. And they probably won’t tell you why. But they’ll tell everybody else.
That costs you money in several ways; first, it’s cheaper to keep your existing patients than advertise to get new ones. Second, negative word-of-mouth can seriously hamper new patient recruitment, forcing you to spend even more on marketing.
And, of course, those former patients are paying for any more procedures.
The Solution: Make the Unconscious, Conscious
If your rate of patient non-return is higher than you would like, consider providing communications training to your staff. Typically, this type of training only takes a couple of hours, and that should be enough for your needs.
However, this is not a subject that you should tackle yourself! It’s all too easy for your staff to feel criticized rather than helped when it’s the boss talking about their behaviors.
Locate a reputable consultant who provides business communications training. Ask colleagues or touch base with other small business owners in your community to get a personal recommendation. A good consultant will tailor the presentation to your particular needs. Make sure he or she understands the power imbalance that exists between dental professionals and patients; that’s a critical factor.
Once communications training is completed, you should have more patients coming back through the door rather than walking out – forever.