Dental Patient Care: Listen More, Talk Less

Trina Poulsen, RDH, BSDH, Santiago Valdez, RDH

Embracing humility. How do you embrace what we don’t know or understand? We ask questions and listen instead of telling. We create opportunities of engagement and curiosity that value trust and building of relationships by listening for solutions rather than giving resolution. Taking the time to listen and engage is a step towards humility. We would like to think that we have all the answers yet sometimes we forget to understand that we may only see from the viewpoint we are closest to.

Our work culture stems on task-focused relationships versus relationship-focused. We ask for things to be done not how they are done. In general, we work top down. Team members with lower status are expected to ask the questions, while those with a higher status are expected to tell and direct people what to do. This managerial model discourages inclusion and encourages seclusion within the team. When people feel as if their leader no longer listens to them or cares for their input, they look for others who do.

Dentistry has always been about the diagnostic, we value telling over asking. We spend more time talking about what we know rather than listening to learn about what we don’t know. Instead of taking the opportunity to build a relationship, ensuring that both parties have been heard, we immediately look for solution and resolution and are surprised by lack of compliance, case acceptance, ownership of oral health and engagement.

To be an effective leader and clinician, humility begins with asking questions. The questions are built on curiosity and with the underlying assumption that we believe we do not have all the answers. Humility requires that we stay present in asking questions relevant to the topic that is being discussed. This approach allows for thoughtful, open ended questions and a genuine interest in the other person. It is through this authentic dialog that discloses what is really going on and encourages positive helping behavior in the other person. Relationships that are built on curiosity and asking good questions motivates, promotes and inspires people to act. There is no room for scripts as this kind of inquiry is not authentic and can lead to personal biases and false attributions.

There are several things that good questions should do; they should provoke thought, stimulate conversation, uncover assumptions, explore possibilities, generate momentum, create hope, optimism, engagement and promote trust.

In asking questions and staying curious we temporarily empower the other person in the conversation exposing our vulnerability. The created relationship of shared power promotes collaboration, ownership and innovation. It is in the building of relationships that a more powerful outcome can be achieved.

We live and work in a culture that promotes telling over listening and asking questions. It is up to us to promote a culture of collaboration and innovation though the art of being genuinely curious. Will you continue to do the things that are comfortable or are you willing to serve others by elevating your humility by staying curious, asking questions and becoming vulnerable?