Blanche Kadjo discusses neuro-linguistic programming and how it can improve the dentist-patient relationship.
A person’s emotional environment has a considerable influence on how they respond to the diagnosis of a disease and its subsequent treatment. Hence its relevance in the field of health, including dentistry.
Therefore, it is necessary for the dentists to carry out an adequate emotional intervention with their patients. This helps to promote positive attitudes towards treatment. It also helps to avoid, as far as possible, any negative response to it. This can be achieved thanks to neuro-linguistic programming.
Furthermore, by putting this discipline into practice we are more aware of how our mind works, and how our language affects our perception of things. So that by using this knowledge to our advantage we become more effective when communicating. This is an indispensable tool in the relationship between the dentists and their work team and in the dentist-patient relationship.
What is neuro-linguistic programming?
Also known as NLP, it is a system or set of techniques that uses the understanding of how the mind works to develop skills and abilities that allow us to act, think and communicate effectively.
It must be taken into account that each person experiences reality in a different way. This is projected in their lives and relationships. And when we study and understand the origin of our emotions, we are able to reprogram our behaviour and the way we perceive and communicate our experiences.
Neuro-linguistic programming is a strategy that is increasingly used in environments where personal development, management, interaction with people and leadership is necessary.
Application of neuro-linguistic programming in dentistry
Currently, NLP techniques have been successfully adapted to the context of dentistry, which favors the relationship between the dentist and the patient and achieves a bond of trust between them, which in turn allows the patient to adhere to the treatment and have a positive view of it. Among the techniques that can be implemented we have:
Understand the patient’s communication/perception system.
Each person has a preferred communication system, which may be:
- Visual: They understand better through images
- Auditory: They understand better through sounds
- Kinesthetic: They understand through body sensations.
Knowing the communication system of each patient allows the dentist to employ adjectives that use the same register of verbal expression, for example, using phrases such as: ‘At the end of the treatment you will see a beautiful (visual adjective) smile on your face with the perfect bite (auditory adjective)’.
Or ‘after the procedure you will be able to feel all your muscles with no pain’ (kinesthetic).
Visualising the desired future
When a dentist explains to a patient why they should undergo a certain treatment, it is a good option to draw on the positive feelings the patient will experience once the procedure is performed.
This sensory enrichment acts on a subconscious level and allows the patient to visualise and focus on positive outcomes rather than negative ones.
The language we use has a great influence on us as it builds our reality and perception of things. For this reason, the dentist should opt for language (visual and sensory images) that is assertive, positive and pedagogical so that it acts on the patient’s subconscious and gives them a hopeful and positive view of the treatment, which in turn guarantees compliance to a large extent.
How do I improve communication and rapport with the patient?
Rapport is a fundamental technique for neuro-linguistic programming. This focus on the dental practice makes it possible to create a synchrony with the patient. That is to say, that both parties have a similar vision of the treatment and what they want to achieve with it.
When rapport is established, there is a considerable improvement in the dentist-patient relationship. This is thanks to effective communication, active listening (on both sides), empathy, trust and mutual cooperation.
Among the ways to improve communication and rapport with the patient we have:
- It is essential for the dentist to develop empathy, have the ability to put themselves in the patient’s shoes and genuinely try to understand them
- Another important factor is to practice active listening, which in turn allows for open and effective communication
- Ideally, the first contact the patient has with the dentist should be a direct, face-to-face interaction. This is why it is recommended that the patient be received outside the operatory room at the first appointment
- In the case of patients with phobias and anxiety, their time to assume the treatment should be respected
- Always prioritise their emotional state, give importance and a clear answer to their concerns, doubts, fears, etc.
How do I build trust by also involving the dental team?
NLP also studies the behaviours and skills of successful people in the professional field. One of these skills is leadership. It directs and guides groups of people towards the achievement of objectives by effectively applying knowledge and attitudes.
The dentist must be an emotionally intelligent leader. They must know how to manage stress, optimise performance and mobilise the team towards the achievement of objectives. These include, among others, the improvement of patients’ oral health.
They must also be able to tune into people’s feelings in order to direct them towards a positive emotional state in accordance with the different situations. So it is essential that they know how to interpret the emotions of their work team in order to avoid transmitting negative messages that divert the group from its objectives.
Empathy, optimism and enthusiasm
In addition to the dentist, the other members of the dental team can relate to the patients. This is so that they feel they are in a safe and trusting environment. This can be accomplished by:
- Creating ways of communication that enhance interactions and relationships among all personnel working in the practice
- Ensuring that the receptionist makes a positive first contact with the patient
- Reinforcing teamwork, collaboration and conflict management when a patient must be treated by several specialists
- Holding regular meetings that include the entire team to reinforce company culture, values, vision, determine goals and reach agreements
- Allow for honest feedback, pointing out both strengths and areas for improvement. To do this, the dental leader must be open to constructive criticism, validating the opinions of their peers
- Likewise, the leader can opt for the modelling strategy, which consists of detecting certain undesirable attitudes and, through NLP, helping employees to abandon them
- Similarly, with modelling, you can visualise positive behaviours and skills that enhance performance, and together develop a plan to enhance them.
As you can see, being a leader should not be taken lightly. You are responsible for guiding your team to achieve the organisation’s goals.
Furthermore, when you manage to lead and inspire a team using empathy, optimism and enthusiasm, it leads to good performance and increases the level of commitment.
This is perceived by patients, who feel they are in a harmonious and positive environment. This in turn increases the number of first consultations, builds patient loyalty and translates into increased revenue.
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