I talk a lot about value creation, and how important it is to develop your communication skills so that you know what to say to get patients thinking about dentistry at a higher level. But a big part of effective communication is not just about knowing what to say; it’s knowing when to not say anything.
This is something I can attest to myself. For instance, if I have a meeting with people on my team where I outline an action plan and give a deadline for completion, there is often that moment where nobody says anything for awhile. It can be very tempting to jump in and fill that silence—to interpret it as resistance, to offer to revise expectations –but I have learned to overcome that impulse and just wait. Most of the time, it turns out that they just needed a few moments to absorb and process what I had just communicated, and in the end they were fine with it. So I have learned to essentially say, this is what I want, this is when I want it by—what can I do to help you get it done? And then I don’t say anything until I get their response.
This is a useful tip to remember in the dental practice too, when it comes to communicating with your team—and also when communicating with patients. In fact, probably the most important time to be silent is right after presenting your proposed treatment plan
Too many dentists often sabotage their own best interests—and their patients’—by trying too hard to be accommodating, and that means they give in to that natural human impulse to fill that silence. They start back-pedalling, suggesting more affordable options, or ways to break up the treatment over time—all before the patient has even said a word. It makes so much more sense to wait, no matter how long it takes, to hear what the patient has to say first. Give them time to process what you have told them. You will be surprised how often the answer is, eventually, “ok.”
This approach ties in with effective fee discussions too. I remember hearing a well-established dentist explain how he deals with the dreaded question, “How much is it going to cost, doc?” He said he simply looks them in the eye and says, evenly and directly, “What we just talked about will cost about $5000 (or whatever it is). “ And then he continues to look at them, silently. No hemming and hawing. No apologies. No phrasing that begins with “I’m afraid that...” He realized that as long as he was confident in presenting his fees in a straightforward way, his patients were confident in knowing that he was worth it. It’s no surprise that this is a dentist with a stellar case acceptance rate.
So by all means, practice what you are going to say to patients. But don’t forget to know when to stop talking.