Relationship stories - Dr Larry Stanleigh blog

Relationship Stories

“The Golden 10” concept developed by Roger Levin, DDS, states that if you get to know eight to 10 things about the person in front of you, you will change your relationship with them from a professional to a personal one.

When this transition occurs with your patients, trust is developed, because people trust people they like. This trust can lead to treatment plan acceptance and so much more. Trust can lead our patients to pay their bills, schedule their next treatment appointments, show up for those appointments, and refer their family and friends.

In a previous The Daily Grind blog post, I told a story about 12-year-old Hayden, who had pain in his upper front teeth in the morning. I was the third dentist he had seen because he did not trust the previous two dentists, who had spent the entire time talking to his mother and not directly to Hayden. He did not understand what the dentists were saying and, therefore, did not trust them. It was a logical thought process. I did the opposite. I listened to Hayden, I examined him, and then I talked to him about him. When we were done, I turned to his mother and asked her simply, “Do you have any questions?” It was exactly what Hayden was looking for. He simply wanted to feel like he mattered.

I want to share two additional stories to illustrate the power of relationship-building with our patients.

I now work in a multi-dentist facility where I am one of three general practice dentists. We don’t all work on the same days. One day this summer, a patient concluded his hygiene treatment, and it was time for his recall examination. His regular dentist, Dr. Linda Geng, was not there that day, so I completed the examination. I reviewed the relationship notes that my partner had made about him in his chart and noticed that he was a math professor at a local university. I entered the operatory, introduced myself, informed him that Dr. Geng was not available and let him know that I would be doing his examination. Before we talked about oral health, I asked how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting his work at the university. It opened up a wonderful brief conversation that made his visit to our clinic more personal. After the examination was done and he went to conclude his paperwork with our administration staff, he mentioned how impressed he was with how caring everyone was in our office. It was not magic. All it took was getting to know him as a person.

Another patient, Mary, was four years old and returned to my office for her regular examination. She had been in our office before, and previous visits had been challenging for her. Mary had a clean mouth with no caries or fillings. She had never had a bad experience in the dental office, but she had had bad medical experiences — therefore, she was scared and nervous in our office, too. During her previous visits, I worked hard to develop trust with her and broke through by learning that her favorite color was purple. So, during this visit, I started by asking her if her favorite color was still purple. She said, “No, it’s pink.” I said, “Pink like bananas?” She laughed and said, “No, silly. Bananas aren’t pink. They’re yellow!” After that, we had a great visit. She left happy, and her parents booked the next visit for six months later.

What do you do when the patient doesn’t want to talk to you at all? These patients are low-trust individuals. They likely had a bad experience in the past, probably with a dentist who had provided a treatment plan the patient felt was unnecessary and poorly communicated. Now, they’re in your office, and they sit there, arms crossed, daring you to disappoint them.

When it becomes very clear that this patient does not want to share any information with you, don’t push. Just step back, and say, “What do you expect from me today?” Find out what they want from the visit, and then find a way to provide exactly what they desire and nothing more. If you do that, they will return to your office. For these patients, trust will take time. As you build trust, they will start to allow you to discuss more treatment recommendations for the future. If you never build a relationship of trust with this patient, you will never have the opportunity to be their long-term oral healthcare provider. It’s the Diamond Rule that I learned from Nate Booth. Find out what people want, and then find a way to provide for them what they uniquely desire.

Remember: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. People will forget what you say to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. The more you know about the person in front of you, the more they think you know about what you are doing. The degree of your success depends on the quality of your relationships, and building relationships takes the need for sales away.

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