She took the concern right out of my mouth

I learned 2 communication tips from my dentist last week. (Just by seeing the word “dentist”, you got the shivers, right?  So much for being in control.)  I was having a crack in a tooth filled. When my dentist removed the Q-tip that had the pre- numbing agent on it, I closed my eyes.  Why? I did not want to see the incoming needle.

Here’s what happened next. See if you can find the tips.

dentistThe assistant put the vacuum in. My dentist pulled my lip away and said, “You’ll feel a slight prick”, which I did.  15 seconds passed and she was still holding the needle in my gum. Several deep breaths. Still the needle remained. 30 seconds passed. Still in there. I raised my hands and made the universal “this is lasting over a long time” gesture – you know the one, put your hands together, finger tips touching and pull your hands apart slowly.

“Yes,” she said, acknowledging my gesture and STILL holding the needle in place.  30 more seconds.  One more deeper breath. Finally, out it came.

Now I could talk:

“Wow, that seemed like a really long time. I would have liked to have known up front that it would be a long time.”

“I do that so it won’t hurt as much.”

“Thank you. It didn’t hurt at all. I would have liked to know up front that it would be a long time.”

“Thanks for the feedback. Some patients don’t want to know anything, the don’t-talk-to-me-until-it’s-over folks.”

“I like to know.”

“You got it.”

Did you find the tips?

Tip #1:  Give people information in the form they prefer. (If you’ve done the Performance Style & Ambitions assessment with me, you know what this means.) Some people like to hear the bottom-line conclusion first, others like to hear the step-by-step that leads up to the conclusion.

Tip #2: Acknowledge the feedback.  (I repeated my comment because I didn’t feel heard. When she said “thank you for your feedback”, the communication loop was closed.)

There are a couple more tips in this short exchange.

Tip #3:  Watch and read body language. (My hand signals.)

Tip #4:  Don’t deflect or diminish someone’s experience or point of view. My dentist did not say: “Oh, it was only in there 20 seconds total. That’s not long.”

Numb gum.  Sensitive ears.

With my gum numb, she began drilling (I hate that high-pitched screech!) and narrating the requested play-by-play. She used wedges, a metal corral (my word), laser light to reveal the crack and cure the various compounds.  Rinse. Spit. All done.

My tooth was always going to be fixed. What made me feel great as I left (Ok, leaving the dentist is always better than going in. Am I right?) was my experience of being heard and respected. When my dentist thanked me for my feedback, she took the concern right out of my mouth – the concern that she didn’t care about what I needed and wanted.

information platterGood news: You don’t have to go to the dentist to use these tips.  Experiment with them in your very next conversation.  This goes for everyone: Leaders, Employees, Executive Directors, Volunteers. Deliver your information in a style that makes it easy for your listener to hear.   When you do, you’ll be seen as someone fills the cracks of misunderstanding before they cause damage.


1 thought on “She took the concern right out of my mouth”

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    Thank you for this combination of enlightenment and entertainment, Camille! You made this experience so vivid that I winced several times on your behalf.

    Many people don’t know the difference between criticism and feedback. Criticism cuts people down, but feedback builds them up. I’m sure you helped your dentist become a better dentist as a result of being willing to offer her this helpful feedback on her work.

    Now I’ve gotta go brush my teeth . . .

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