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How to Avoid Lawyers and Regulators in Dentistry
By Dr. Barry Oulton B.Ch.D, DPDS, MNLP 

26 December, 2018 - Haslemere, England, United Kingdom

In my 25-year dental career, so far, I have successfully managed to avoid the lawyers and regulators and, to date, I have not had the ‘pleasure’ of having to deal with the GDC. I am a single handed general dentist who, for the last 10 years, provides a full range of dentistry on a private basis. My practice is a busy town practice in Surrey turning over a healthy 7 figure sum, I work 3.5 days per week clinically and I don’t place implants.

My turning point in my life both professionally and personally was about 10 years ago when my first wife was having a 2-year affair with my ‘friend’. I thought I was broken, felt defeated, embarrassed and isolated. I suffered from panic attacks, fear and yet became a single dad of two young daughters. So, I did what every normal person would do – I attended a life changing course and walked on burning hot coals, not once, not twice, but three times. This was my first introduction into NLP - Neuro Linguistic Programming.

NLP is a huge subject and has, in the past, at times been associated with exploitation and entertainment. However, the vast majority of NLP is used in a positive, caring way in order to improve people’s lives. I use it to improve my life, that of my family and my patients and I will share a few little nuggets with you that you can learn, practice and implement immediately with positive results. 

What Is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
The neuro bit is all about the mind and how it takes in information and processes it. The basic building blocks of all our experiences are formed from what we see, hear, feel, smell and taste – our five senses. In NLP we call them - visual (V), auditory (A), kinaesthetic (K), olfactory (O) and gustatory (G).
Research shows that we are bombarded with more than 2 million bits of information, through our senses, every second and that consciously we can only handle about 134 bps (bits per second). That’s a tiny amount of the 2 million bits of information coming at us so, what happens?

All of the information passes via our senses through various internal filters, such as our beliefs, values, memories and experiences, we also delete, distort and generalise things. Mostly we are unaware of this process taking place and the end result is our own unique Internal Representation of what’s happening outside, our internal images, sounds, feelings, smells and tastes about the outside event. (This unique IR is different for everyone, which is why eye witness reports are always different. 30 people saw exactly the same event but they each chose a different 134 bits per second to create their IR of the event)

The linguistic bit of NLP is all about how we use our language, how we label things, how we interpret things, and how we talk, both with ourselves (our self-talk) and with others. We often have a running commentary in our mind about what is occurring right now and it’s all too common for us to listen to that commentary rather than the conversation we might be having at the time, perhaps even with patients!!

NLP recognised and uncovered many language patterns that can be very useful in communicating and influencing others and ourselves.

Programming is the behavioural response, the patterns, that are inside us all that we have as a result of the outside information (neuro) and the subsequent language and non-verbal communication (linguistic). Programming is our way of controlling something, how we interpret the world and how we control our daily actions, choices and behaviours.

I’d like to share a couple of nuggets that you can use immediately in your communications with yourself, your loved ones, your team and patients which will give you instant results. Most disagreements, complaints and issues within our businesses could be dealt with, or even avoided with better communication. Learning new communication techniques and tips may therefore reduce the likelihood of having to meet with the lawyers and the regulators.
Your Unconscious Mind Cannot Process a Negative
If I were to say to you - ‘Don’t think of a dental chair’, you have to imagine a dental chair in order to NOT think of a dental chair. Even for a brief, fleeting moment, you will have an Internal Representation of a dental chair.

When my daughters were young and I didn’t know this, I would say things like ‘Sweetheart, don’t spill the juice’ or ‘careful, don’t trip’. Whilst I had a positive intent for her to keep the juice in the glass and for her to stay upright and not hurt her knees, I was increasing the likelihood of her spilling her juice or even falling over.

Why? Because in order for her to understand what ‘not spilling her drink’ looked like, she had to create a picture, sound or movie in her head (an internal representation) of spilling the drink. It was almost like a mini rehearsal for the main event which, invariably resulted in me on my hands and knees mopping up juice and chastising her. Wow, what a situation, the poor child gets told off for doing exactly what I had, unintentionally, told her to do.

So, once I learned this nugget, I would make every effort to catch myself from coming out with a negative and change it to a positive before I spoke. For example, “Sweetheart, carry your glass really carefully”. I had the same positive intent and dramatically increased the likelihood of her keeping the liquid in the glass because she had to create an ‘Internal Representation’ of carrying the glass carefully rather than spilling it. Make sense?
So, How Can This Be Useful in Your Life as a Dentist?
Well, let’s look at some of the things you might begin to be aware of that are said every day to your patients by you and your team. Firstly, a disclaimer, I know that you have a positive intent for your patient and with some practice and effort you will be able to influence them even better than you already do.

In my dental practice, we used to say things like this:

  • It’s ok, it won’t hurt
  • There won’t be any pain
  • Don’t be scared
  • Don’t worry
  • This won’t be uncomfortable
  • I don’t want you to be nervous
What internal representations do you think these statements created in the minds of our patients?

Now clearly, we had a positive intent of reassuring our patients and wanting them to be and feel comfortable, yet we were actually increasing the anxiety of our patients, creating pictures sounds and images in their minds of pain, worry, nervousness and hurt.

If you think about it for a second, you already knew this rule. Have you ever had a 3/4-year-old in your practice and Mum says ‘I’ve told little Chester not to worry’? Your heart sank, didn’t it? Because you knew this was not helping you or little Chester, despite Mum’s intentions.

Action Point: Take a look at the phrases you and your team use on a daily basis, have a team meeting or lunch and learn and write them down. Once you have exhausted your list, come up with an alternative phrase that is stated as a positive, one which will increase the likelihood of your patient creating a positive internal representation. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

For example:

It’s ok, it won’t hurt It’s ok, it will be comfortable
There won’t be any pain I’m going to be gentle
Don’t worry Stay relaxed
This won’t be uncomfortable  This will be comfortable
I don’t want you to be nervous I want you to be calm and chilled

Action Point: Take a good look at your marketing material, website, your patient lounge and patient information leaflets. Check for negative language in all material and look to re-write it in a positive way. For example, consider changing ‘pain free dentistry’ to ‘comfortable and caring’
Watch and Be Aware of Your "BUTs"
Can you remember a time when a friend said something potentially nice and then used the word but? Did your heart sink a little, did you feel that they didn’t really mean the compliment?

‘Hey I love your new hair cut …. but…’
‘I love you … but …
‘Well done, you did a great job of that …. but….
‘That’s a beautifully shaped composite …. but ….

‘But’ negates whatever precedes it. The word BUT negates or cancels everything that goes before it and is generally accepted as an indication that the really important part of the sentence is coming up.

Before I knew this, I would complement my nurses for a great job and remind them that the surgery needed to be stocked and I was surprised when they seemed a little grumpy and felt unappreciated.

‘Guys, you worked really well today….. but…. can you make sure the surgery is stocked up please?’

By using the word ‘but’ they didn’t hear my complement and gratitude, which was genuine. 
I was also guilty of doing something similar to my children as well.

‘Sweetheart, I love you…. but ….. can you be a bit quieter please?’
‘Brilliant results 9 A’s…but….what happened with the B in geography?’
The Hidden BUT: there are a couple of ways that we create the same effect, the words 
‘however’ and ‘yet’ can have the same impact.

I enjoyed your presentation … however …
You made sense of that … and yet ….
Ok, so what to do instead?

You simply replace the word ‘BUT’ with ‘AND.’

Instead of:
  • ‘Guys, you worked really well today….. but…. can you make sure the surgery is stocked up please?’
  • ‘Sweetheart, I love you…. but ….. can you be a bit quieter please?’
  • ‘You are doing a great job… but …I’d like you to be more involved in team meetings’
  • ‘You could crown the broken tooth but a filling is a cheaper option’ (guess what your patient will choose to have done)
  • ‘Guys, you worked really well today and can you make sure the surgery is stocked up please?’
  • ‘Sweetheart, I love you and can you be a bit quieter please?’
  • ‘You are doing a great job and I’d like you to be more involved in team meetings’
  • ‘You could crown the broken tooth and a filling is a cheaper option’
Using ‘AND’ gives equal weight to both parts of the sentence.

Use ‘BUT’ with purpose or ‘on-purpose’

Whilst I encourage you to watch your buts carefully, I also want you to be aware of when you can use it purposefully. If you know that one treatment option is better for your patient than another choice you can ethically influence them to make a better choice.

In Sales – use ‘BUT’ to negate a product or service whilst emphasising the better choice.
‘You could fill that tooth BUT a stronger option would be to crown it.’
‘You could have a denture to fill that gap BUT you will have to take it out to clean it AND you don’t have to do that with an implant.’
‘You can pay over 10 months BUT you can have a 5% discount when you pay in full up front.’

Action Point: 10 years ago my 8-year old became the BUT police at home. She would playfully catch us out when we used it. With time and practice we became much better at changing our language AND using it on purpose. Please practice this language skill and be your team’s BUT police!!!

Self-Motivation – Flipping your BUT.

Often, we can talk ourselves out of doing something beneficial by using ‘but’ in our self-talk. To increase your motivation and your results try flipping your but sentence, it’s not some gymnastics move yet it will help you perform better.

‘I really need to go for a run BUT it’s raining’ – do you think I would end up going for a run? - no

So, by flipping the sentence in my head to:

‘It’s raining BUT I really need to go running’ , I have a complete change in focus and motivation. I am moved to find a solution for running or exercising rather than sitting down in front of the TV.

Action Point: practice flipping your motivational buts and see what changes you get in your results.

Having read the information above, please take it into your practice/home and have a play with it. You will experience the positive results I know you will get and you are welcome to join me on my training programmes to learn more from ‘The Confident Dentist’ company. Influencing Smiles is a live 2-day Sales and Communication training course and Influencing More Smiles is a 3-day advanced Sales and Communication course.

The thing about NLP is that when you learn it from me, I am really only making you consciously aware of what you unconsciously already knew. Together we just share the information in a way that we can begin to make different choices in order to serve ourselves and others better.

I look forward to working together soon.

All the best
Barry Oulton

The Confident Dentist Blog is published by Dr. Barry Oulton of The Confident Dentist


Phone : 0333 220 2447

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