Within Dentistry we have been trained to be technically good. We are scientists after all where everything is black and white. Grey exists but does not register and that is where dental communication lies, firmly in the grey zone.

Yet despite not being trained we are expected to communicate and build rapport with our dental team and most importantly with our patients.

The fact of the matter is if your patients do not like you they will carry on walking to that other practice down the road.

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I  recently attended an incredible lecture by Jane Lelean who teaches Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to dental teams. NLP attempts to bring science to dental communication. It was invented in 1970’s by a couple of scientists who studied how the greatest communicators in the world built rapport. They then simplified it and taught it so that anyone could be a great communicator.

Here are three NLP tips and tricks for you to play with:

1) Mirroring body language

55% of dental communication is non-verbal. Have you ever got that inkling that you may dislike someone before anything has been said. This is likely due to their body posture. People tend to like others who are similar to themselves and this can be applied to body language. Next time you talk to your patient, nurse, anyone really… Try mimicking their body posture. If they have their arms crossed then cross yours, if they have their legs crossed, cross yours…. you get the gist. Of course do it quite subtly because you do not want to get caught.

2) It’s not what you say, it is the way you say it

38% of dental communication comes through the tone of your voice. This percentage doubles up to 76% on the phone because they cannot see your body language. There are three types of people:

  • Visual  who speak loudly and quickly
  • Auditory who speak in a sing song voice
  • Kinaesthetic who speak slowly and gently
  • (You now know where the name VAK Mentor comes from)

In essence the tone of your voice should mimic theirs so if they are visual you speak loudly and quickly… etc.. etc.. One point that I found very interesting is what to do in arguments.

Do you ever find that when a patient starts to raise their voice that remaining calm seems to anger them more?

I certainly have. To relieve the situation you are meant to go towards the patient’s tone and yes that does mean raising your voice slightly. Do not try to outshout them because this will make them angry. Moderation is key.

3) Words

Words actually only contribute 7% to dental communication which is really low however it still important. I cannot even imagine how speaking complete gibberish with good tonality and body language would work. Give it a go and let me know. The words that you use are actually most powerful when body language and tonality is not possible for example on websites and advertising. It turns out that there are only a certain number of words that resonate with people:

  • Security
  • Freedom
  • Peace
  • Independence
  • Success
  • Clarity
  • Confidence
  • Honesty
  • Professionalism

Play with these words in your advertising and see if it increases your number of views.

As dental communication becomes more and more topical because of the growing suing culture. It seems that we all need to (myself included) buckle up on our communication skills. I have literally skimmed the surface of what NLP has to offer and will most certainly be looking into it in the future.


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A big thank you to Jane Lelean for giving an incredible lecture on NLP. For more information she can be found on www.healthyandwealthy.co.uk. The second big thank you goes to the  BACD  especially Will Shaw and Nishan Dixit for organising the lecture.