The Magic Words of Management

“I’ll take care of it.”

For a dental office manager, these are truly magic words. When your dentist rushes up to you, holding his gloved hands up in the air to keep them clean and asks you to find the patient that is supposed to be here for his root canal or to make sure the financial arrangements are handled for the crown in room 3, now is not the time for a lengthy conversation or an eye roll because the dentist is clearly in a hurry. A quick nod and the magic words, “I’ll take care of it” will bring you success every time.

In my practice, I train my staff on the general levels – this means that I’m training staff on people skills, conflict dental management, problem solving, etc. so they can learn the skills that will allow them to use their clinical/administrative knowledge. Without people skills, patients won’t open their mouth and staff won’t cooperate – all the x-ray licenses in the world won’t help the assistant who offends patients and drives them out of the practice. As part of the general levels dental staff training, we talk about matching people’s mood in order to improve communication. If your patient is grumpy, then whistling about what a beautiful sunshiny morning it is will simply aggravate him and reduce your success at communication. If instead, you match your patient with a more serious approach and then move up to a more pleasant tone of voice and style, then you’re increasing his comfort level with you and he may be more compliant.

Now let’s apply this approach to supporting your dentist – first, identify the dentist’s mood. Now, this is not carte blanche to dentists to come into the office with a different mood each day, but for staff to recognize when the dentist is in a hurry and needs help quickly. You should be able to tell by the look on his face, the tone of voice – and often the gloved hands held high as he turns the closes doorknob with his elbow. When you see that your dentist is stressed, then the magic words “I’ll take care of it” are music to his ears. You are letting him know that you understand his need and that he can count on you to handle it.

The opposite of this is to argue with the dentist. This may sound obvious, but it’s not. Just the other day, I had one of my upper level secretaries disagreeing with a dentist over priorities for tasks. He needed a letter typed, she needed to place our weekly inventory order and a couple other items needed accomplished as well. Although normally this staff person handles the dentists well, she forgot the magic words – and ended up in a disagreement that upset both of them.

The next day, we discussed this situation in a dental management level meeting and discussed how the magic words would have helped her to handle this situation far more smoothly. We agreed that although she was right that placing the weekly inventory order was important and needed to be done, she could have used some active listening skills with the dentist to head off a disagreement right away. So, when the dentist comes up to the front desk saying that he needs a letter typed right away, the secretary can ask a few clarifying questions, such as “When do you need this by? Do you want me to email it or US mail it for you? Who is this letter going to?”  and then repeat her understanding back to the dentist: “So what I’m hearing you say is that you need this letter typed and emailed to Dr. X by 10:30am? Is that right?” With agreement, then she says the magic words “I’ll take care of it.”

Next, she can do whatever she wants in whatever order she wants – as long as she gets the letter typed & emailed by 10:30am! The dentist doesn’t care what other tasks get accomplished – he is focused on this letter alone. So, once she knows the priority and listens to what the dentist needs, she can get this work done any way she likes.

The benefit for the dentist is that you have fewer arguments with staff – they feel less of a need to tell you all the other projects they’re working on that are just as important as your project. (This can especially be an issue when we have a male dentist and a female secretary – the female secretary can feel like the dentist is ‘really’ telling her that her work is unimportant while his urgent task is important. For those of us who have been married more than 15 minutes, we know this type of issue dooms any further communication.) Another benefit of this magic words approach is that the dentist feels like he is communicating effectively with staff (and he is!) and he feels good about his staff. The dentist can move along his day with the confidence that work is being accomplished at the proper priority.

The benefit for the staff, especially the office manager, is that she stays in control of her time.  She knows how to handle the dentists when they are stressed and need a hand – and when other staff see her success, her reputation for staying calm & collected in stressful situations begins to develop. Once she has this skill down, she can teach it to others – again, remember the magic words!

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
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