Zyris Healthy Practice Playbooks: Communication

By Vince Lymburn June 14, 2022

Welcome to the Zyris Healthy Practice Playbook series.

Throughout this blog series, we’re going to be covering everything dental professionals need to know to help their practices thrive. These posts will offer insights, tips, and practical advice from our network of trusted providers.

For our first installment, Dr. Mark Hyman shared his insights on a topic that touches all areas of running a dental practice: effective communication and tactics for mastering this art at all career levels.

Communication is Key

We’ve all heard this phrase, and that’s for good reason. In aspects of our lives, the ability to clearly share what we’re thinking, as well as listen, can unlock opportunities for growth and success. For private practice dentists specifically, mastering communication can be a make or break scenario. Balancing delivering high-quality clinical care with business-critical tasks means there’s little opportunity for mincing words. 

When communication is clear and precise, teams operate effectively, patient care is excellent, everyone is happy, work gets done efficiently, and the practice thrives. On the other hand, when communication is chaotic, the team suffers, responsibilities are unclear, patients become uncertain, critical steps are missed due to uncertainty, care declines, teams are unhappy and the practice fails.

To put things in a different perspective, the way a practice leader communicates positive or negatively impacts every aspect of operations, including:

  • Building the team, hiring, onboarding, managing, firing, etc.
  • Time management, capitalizing on the amount of time everyone can work
  •  Managing financials, expenses, and revenues
  • Scheduling for patients, staff, team
  • Treatment planning
  • Patient engagement and management, and more.

What is effective communication?

We’ve established that the ability to communicate, or lack thereof, underpins every element of patient care and running a practice. But an even larger question remains: What does effective communication look and feel like? We can’t improve if we don’t know what to aim for.

There are thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of guides, courses, and workshops that claim to create expert communicators overnight. It’s overwhelming, and most options just focus on personal attributes and considerations instead of clear, actionable steps. Plus, ideal communication varies from practice to practice. 

There are, however, some steps you can take to define excellent communication for your practice, including:

  • Breaking down the components of effective communication in action.
  • Determining an improvement plan
  • Starting the work

With this path in mind, it’s time to dive in. 

The Playbook

What follows represents learnings from Dr. Hyman’s more than 40 years of experience as a successful private dental practitioner and business owner. His insights cut through the noise and specifically outline what you need the communication journey, including:

  • Setting the context for what you need to define before you start
  • Establishing the first 3 most important aspects of your communication journey, clarifying them, providing steps for executing them consistently, and offering options for training and action.
  •  Lists the steps you need to take
  • Clarifies time commitments for each step
  • Provides a template with examples for how to define each aspect of communications

Before you begin, keep these guiding principles from Dr. Hyman in mind:

  1. Improving communication is not a “one and done” exercise. There’s no defined finish line, and it’s a process of continual improvement.
  2. As you learn from experience, mentors, role models, or other resources, your communication style will evolve. Know that, live it, and own it.
  3. Give yourself permission to FAIL!  Know that it’s ok to screw up, as long as we learn from our mistakes.
  4. Embrace the idea that not everybody will like you, but aim to do your best.
  5. Always treat your patients, team and colleagues as PEOPLE, Human beings, not revenue sources, information sources, etc.

NOTE:  These guiding principles don’t change, remind yourself of this often.

Understand Yourself

How we communicate is a reflection of who we are as people. Naturally, the first step is clearly understanding who you are and what your values are. 

To do this, ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:

 WHO are YOU?

  1. What is your personality style? (Think DISC Profile, etc)
  2. What do you like and dislike?
  3. What are your moral and ethical boundaries?
  4. How do you work?

What are your PHILOSOPHIES?

  1. What is your vision for yourself?
  2. What mission are you setting?
  3. What commitments are you willing to make?

Take an audit of what you believe you do well and what you need to work on

  1. Realize that graduating from dental school is only the beginning
  2. List the resources you KNOW you have
  3. Identify the people you can go to for help NOW
  4. Get clear about the level of risk you’re willing to take
  5. Resist an “Entitled Mindset”—You have to put in the work before you can reap the rewards – be patient

What’s Next:

  • Use the results from your self-discovery as the foundation for how you communicate, and base your dialogue around who you know you are, not what you think people perceive you as. 
  • Communicate in ways that help your patients and team achieve THEIR results/goals, not yours. 
  • Lastly, set achievable goals you can articulate clearly and without too much explanation

Find a Mentor or Coach

Self-improvement isn’t easy. It’s essential to establish and maintain a network of mentors to help stay motivated on you journey to becoming a master communicator. Here are some pointers to get started.

  1. Start with people you respect and admire.
    1. People who inspire you to be better than you are.
    2. People who have a philosophy/approach that resonates with you.
    3. Find people who provide CARE in their treatment, who prioritize patient welfare.
  2. Ask colleagues, friends who they admire and work with.
    1. Don’t be shy about asking why someone would recommend a person as a role model/mentor.
    2. Spend time with who you believe is/will be your role model.
  3. Observe how they teach, mentor others, and provide information.
  4. Ask them hard questions and listen to what they share with you.
    1. Pay attention to the difference between those who TELL to DO THINGS vs. those who inspire you.
  5. Take your time in choosing a person.
  6. Once you find a person recognize the following:
    1. Role models change over time – as you grow and mature, as you learn and apply – know that it’s ok and natural to evolve beyond the person you initially pick as a mentor/role model.
    2. It’s not always about the material possessions or what the person has – look beyond what they do and pay attention to their engagement as humans/people.
    3. Mentors and Role models should be all about COACHING.
    4. Someone who is telling you WHAT TO DO is not teaching you how to do things – find those that help you create a support infrastructure.
    5. Be open to being coached and challenged.
    6. Ask questions to clarify points and go deeper. 

What’s next:

  • Share your personal findings with your mentor, and don’t be shy about owning who you are as the core for how you communicate.
  • Use your mentor/role model to help you deliver difficult, uncomfortable communications – listen to them but remember to be yourself.
  • Confirm that your mentor/role model is a person willing to commit to telling you things about yourself you may not want to hear.

Focus on Continuing Education

In many ways, graduating from dental school is just the beginning of your dental education. As you move into treating patients and running a business, you’ll quickly learn there is a whole world of knowledge that can help improve all aspects of your work.

  1. Recognize that clinical knowledge isn’t everything. Engaging with people is your area of focus, so commit to this goal.
  2. Explore resources like courses, books, TED Talks, and more to guide your learning. There’s a lot out there, so ask your mentor for some recommendations.
    1. Find the educational program/process that resonates with the way you learn and DO IT – don’t make excuses for NOT doing it now.
  3. Understand that education is a lifelong commitment, and it will encompass every aspect of what you’re doing until you stop doing it.
    1. Start with the basics about communicating and engagement and grow from there.
    2. Don’t assume you know ANYTHING.
    3. Be relentless in looking for different perspectives and ways of engaging with people.
  4. Find an accountability buddy who will inspire and push you and you can inspire and push in return.
  5. Make a commitment and set a goal for how you will educate yourself and how much time you’ll spend doing it.
    1. Be realistic about your time, and don’t skimp.
  6. Don’t forget that dentistry is about people, not just treating teeth.

What’s next:

  • Create an education plan starting with courses that cover the technical, financial, and behavioral aspects related to running a dental practice.
  • Set a realistic timeline – e.g. completing 5 courses each quarter. Commit to it, and share it with your team.

Put Your Words Into Action

Once you’ve established the infrastructure of your learning plan, it’s time to get to work!

  1. Write down your answers to the hard questions you ask yourself, and use these as the foundation for how you communicate with people, patients, and team.
  2. Revisit what you’ve written regularly to gauge how you’re growing/evolving and monitor how you’re changing.
  3. Create ACTIONABLE tasks and EXECUTE/DO them.
  4. It’s not enough to say you will be a better communicator because you attended a course.
    1. If you don’t practice what you’ve learned, you’ll remember nothing.
    2. Commit to providing actionable communications, not philosophies.
  5. Ask those around you how you’re doing.
    1. Listen to them and give yourself the grace to make mistakes.
    2. Don’t become defensive and never justify why you’ve said something that upsets people.
    3. Learn what’s working and do more if that. Learn what could be better and change.

Play the Long Game

Change doesn’t happen overnight. As you put in the work, keep these points in mind to stay motivated and on track.

  1. Tacking effective communications can be overwhelming when you don’t start with yourself, so stay focused.
  2. Remember as a leader, you are always “on stage.” Never cross “the line” and remember people will remember what you say.
    1. If what you say is clear, your audience will be clear.
    2. If what you say is unclear, your audience will be unclear.
  3. When you discover who you are and how you operate, this enables you to:
    1. Find mentors/role models you resonate with to overcome your challenges.
    2. Determine what kind of education you need to improve yourself.
    3. Clarify your operational philosophy for your team, and explain how they fit into your vision.
    4. Recognize that everyone is unique, enabling you to adapt your engagement in a way that resonates with whom you’re speaking.
    5. Be clear with yourself and your team.

Follow this guide, and you’ll be well on your way to reimagining your communication style and unlocking the interpersonal and business benefits that come through hard work.