Management + Leadership

3 Ways to brush up on your communication


It’s no secret that effective communication is vital to a successful practice. Miscommunication in the office leads to a tremendous amounts of stress for you, the practitioner, your staff and your patients.

Communication basics

Communication can be broken down to it’s core components:

  • Sender: the person who initiates or sends the message
  • Receiver: the person who is interpreting the message being sent
  • Message: the content or idea of the sender
  • Medium: the means used for the message exchange (ie. e-mail, text, face-to-face)
  • Feedback: the response to the message
  • Context: an important but often forgotten component of communication. All communication is influenced by the context or situation whether it be cultural, chronological, social or physical.

Everything outside of these core components can be considered “noise”. Noise is anything that interferes with the interpretation of the message. It can be literal such as the sound of your handpiece. It can also can be derived from the above components. For example, the downside of choosing a written medium, like texting, is that it lacks non-verbal cues and can lead to misinterpretation. Understanding these basic components can help us reduce the noise and risk of misinterpretation.

Choosing the right team

If you have the luxury, this could be one of the easiest ways set up a foundation for success. Some applicants may be highly qualified for the position but their personality just simply won’t mesh well with you or the team you’re trying to build. Consider these types of personalities adapted from Hippocrates:

  • Driver: this person is a strong leader and planner and thrives on challenges and respect.
  • Expressive: usually very social, care-free and/or talkative. They can be a good source of new ideas, but may also struggle with following through on tasks.
  • Amiable: typically a steady personality that prefers to work alone and may need additional time to respond to change.
  • Competence: traditionally a strong introvert and makes decisions based on logic and facts.

These personality types are also the foundation for most modern day personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Keirsey Temperment Sorter.  Keep in mind, usually no one is purely just one personality type but a combination of them. Using the interview and early trial period to get a feel of his or her personality will make a huge impact on productivity and help create an enjoyable work environment by minimizing conflicts. Additionally, people’s personalities may change over time. Simply understanding the personality make-up of your staff will help you manage them more effectively.

Setting clear expectations  

When talking with practicing dentists, one of the most common places for frustration is when a team member doesn’t meet expectations. In my own experience, this usually happens not because the team member is incompetent. It happens because my instructions weren’t clear and I had no idea they weren’t clear. To combat this, I’ve incorporated a simple rule that I also use when setting goals:

  • Specific: what exactly do you need done?
  • Meaningful: why is this important? Who else is depending on this to get it done?
  • Action Oriented: what additional steps might need to be taken?
  • Realistic: is this too much to ask? Get feedback from your team member as well.
  • Timely: when do you want it done by?

Following this simple set of rules really can make a huge difference in helping your team understand what you need done, why, when, and how. Have you ever played the game where someone is blind folded and they are relying on your instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It’s an exercise that shows just how complicated a simple task can be when the instructions aren’t specific. Step 1, “get the bread out of the bag” and before you know it the bread bag is ripped open and there’s a bread explosion. When applying these rules, it may start with something more like, “carefully remove the twisty-tie from the bread bag”, instead of combining multiple steps into one. Remember back to your waxing days? Some advice I remember getting was something along the lines of “just make it look like the contralateral”. You can use this method to give better feedback as well.

Final words

Hopefully this can serve as a good starting point as you try and figure out what’s going to make you successful later in private practice. There are certainly volumes of information out there and the best thing to do is just start applying them now, while you’re in school.

– Daniel Yates, San Antonio ’18, chapter president-elect

Daniel Yates

Daniel is a second year dental student at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio. He currently serves as President-Elect of the San Antonio Chapter of the American Student Dental Association and is also the Editor-in-Chief for the chapter newsletter, the Alamolar. He is also an avid Houston Texans and Red Raider fan, as well as a habitual abuser of dental puns.

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