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Authors : Dr. Howard Farran.

On my Dentistry Uncensored podcasts, I am constantly interviewing dental consultants, and the something keeps coming up. Dental employees don’t feel safe.

The top consultants in the industry all tell me that a surprising number of dentists have created a practice environment in which they receive no feedback from the people who matter the most to the well-being of the practice. I’m talking about your office manager, your assistants, your hygienists, your receptionists, and your lab techs.

And when these people don’t feel safe or comfortable coming to you with problems or issues, big or even small, what ends up happening? The practice starts to suffer. The work atmosphere turns toxic. There’s drama, or worse, turnover. So what does the doc do? He or she makes the decision to bring in a consultant, and $50,000 later the writing on the wall is clear: The employees don’t feel safe.
 

NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS

I can’t tell you how many seminars I’ve walked in to, only to be stopped just inside the door by an assistant, receptionist or office manager who pulls me aside and practically begs me to talk about some of the most basic problems a dental office encounters on a daily basis.

I end up having the same conversation. I ask, “Well, why haven’t you brought this up with the doc?” I watch their eyes get real big and they all tell me the same thing in a near whisper. “Oh my God, if I said that or asked that, I’d probably get fired,” they all say. It’s the same with lab techs. I’d say 80 percent of all the lab people I’ve known in my career are afraid of the dentists they work with.

They feel that they can’t call up the doc and say, “Hey, you need to retake that impression,” or ask, “Could you not send me an impression with the bloody cotton rolls still stuck in there?” I’ve lost count of how many of these lab techs want to call up the doc and ask him or her to come down to the lab to work things out. Why don’t they?

Because they are afraid you’ll just tell them, “You screwed up! Not me! I’ll just get another lab.”

So why are the doctor’s staff and the lab techs feeling so scared to communicate with dentists? It’s because everyone thinks we’re nothing but arrogant nerds who think we know everything. And you know what? Sometimes we can be. You’re a doctor, and you’re great at math, physics and chemistry. But that doesn’t make you an expert in everything. The problem, doc, is you.
 

IT’S IN THE ADJECTIVES

Something I do every time I have to hop on a plane somewhere is ask the person next to me to describe a dentist in one word. Here’s what I usually hear. “Arrogant.” “Obnoxious.” “Conceited.” “Knowit- all.” For kicks, I ask them to do the same word association with lawyers. It’s always worse for the lawyers, but what can we do about that?

The one adjective that never comes up is, “humble.” It’s a shame, because if there’s one industry on the planet that could use more humility, it’s dentistry. Back when I was fresh into my career—when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth—there was a great story in Reader’s Digest. A journalist had study models and a full set of X-rays done and then went around to dozens of dentists and asked each of them what he or she would like to do for his treatment plan. No two dentists recommended the same treatment plan for that journalist. In fact, some of the plans ranged from $0 to $30,000, and each one was certain his or her treatment plan was the correct one.

We like to joke around on Dentaltown.com that you can’t get two dentists to even agree on what day it is. That’s not an argumentative spirit; it’s an arrogant one, and in the practice, it’s the kind of thing that turns a doc’s staff away from feeling safe about voicing concerns or problems.

Here’s what you need to do. Take a good, long, honest look at your practice. When was the last time someone on your staff came up to you and really spoke his or her mind? When was the last time your hygienist stopped you in the hallway and commented on something she noticed about your work? When was the last time your office manager sat down with you and told you about a problem? If you can’t remember, then you’ve created an office where your employees don’t feel safe.
 

BE TRANSPARENT… AND MAYBE EVEN NICE

You want a good sign that your team feels safe? Here’s one. I got the whole team together a number of years back and told them I was thinking about getting a CAD/CAM. Instead of a silent room of nodding heads, my assistant piped right on up and questioned why we needed it, without hesitation or fear of me scolding her for questioning me. Strive to reach a level where any member of your practice can ask a question or offer an opinion without ever hesitating to do so.

 

Start taking some time and

 

asking each of your staff

 

members how they’re doing.

There are a lot of added benefits to reaching that level of communication. I can’t tell you how many dentists complain to me that their hygienists don’t sell dentistry to patients. It’s because your hygienist feels that she can’t talk to you about your work, especially if she sees something wrong with it. If you want your hygiene team to sell dentistry, then be open to their feedback, stay humble, and give them a reason to rave about you to patients.

If you’re a dentist and you find it offensive when your staff asks you questions about your treatment plans, and you don’t want to spend the time answering, that’s going to cost you tens of thousands of dollarsbecause you’re going to have a corporate culture in the dental office where no one in your practice really wants to promote you from the heart because they don’t believe in what you’re doing. And if they don’t believe in what you’re doing, why should they stay with the practice?

Start taking some time and asking each of your staff members how they’re doing. You’re not going to create the perfect safe-haven practice in an afternoon, but you can get the ball rolling, and all it takes is a few minutes each day. Otherwise, you’ll remember this column when you’re writing a check for that consultant. And guess what she or he will do that you could have done? Just sit right down with each member of your practice and ask what’s up.

Be transparent, get everything laid on the table, and if your team doesn’t believe in what you’re doing, then maybe you’re doing something wrong or you have the wrong team, but everyone has to feel safe. There should be open communication at all times or it’s ultimately going to have a huge, negative economic impact on your business.

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