How to have better conversations
Communication is like breathing. We do it all day long, sometimes with more awareness than at other times. And, like breathing, communication is vitally important to our lives. Of course, breathing is literally vital – our physical wellbeing depends on it.
But communication is important on a personal level. It’s through our conversations with others that we can express ourselves and make personal connections. And it’s not just the words we use that are important. It’s our tone, our body language, our posture. We’re communicating every moment that we’re awake. Without communication – as we’ve seen recently when our usual methods were cut off by a certain pandemic – it’s easy to feel adrift or a little bit disconnected.
Over the past few months, many of us have felt this need for connection like never before, and we’ve had to adapt and find new ways to communicate. (Has anyone else lost track of the number of Zooms they’ve had over the past seven months?!)
Even the most introverted among us have realised how important human connection is to our mental health and sense of wellbeing. In fact, a recent study found that the strength of a person’s social circle was a better predictor of self-reported stress, happiness and wellbeing levels than data on physical activity, heart rate and sleep.
Given that mental health is a big issue among dental professionals, a situation potentially exacerbated by COVID-19, learning how to communicate more effectively and have better conversations can only be a positive thing. Not just for you, but for your colleagues, your patients, and your friends and family.
Below are some ways you can improve your communication:
Make eye contact – this is even more important in these days of mask-wearing and extra PPE. Even when the person you’re talking with could see your whole face, eye contact is a key part of making a human-to-human connection and showing the speaker that you’re paying attention to them.
If you struggle with shyness and introversion, it might feel like a tough ask. But do try to make, and maintain, eye contact. It will make the other person feel listened to, and that goes a long way to making all parties feel happier (and it doesn’t hurt when it comes to building rapport with patients either).
Listen actively – as well as keeping eye contact, you can also show that you are listening to, rather than just hearing, the other person through ‘active listening’. We’ve probably all had that experience of feeling like the person we’re speaking to is just waiting to reply rather than listening to understand what we’re saying.
You don’t want to be that person! With active listening you can show that you’re truly paying attention and engaged by what they’re saying. Some of the ways you can do this are by nodding, saying ‘uh-huh’, and providing feedback on what they have said. Visit here for more advice on active listening.
Mirror the other person – mirroring is something we often do sub-consciously when in conversation with someone, particularly when we get along well with them. When you watch two people who are in a great flow of communication, you’ll often find that they are copying each other’s actions, unintentionally.
If you find you’re struggling in a conversation, or to connect with someone on a personal level, the next time you’re speaking to them try (subtly!) mirroring some of their actions. Often, you’ll find the other person responding positively to what you’re doing.
Don’t just focus on the words – of course the words we use when communicating are important. But they are not the be all and end all. There’s a famous statistic that only 7% of communication is verbal. The other 93% is made up of body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%).
For those of us who have spent many a recent video call on mute to avoid feedback, you’ll recognise how important your body language and facial expression are! An open posture, arms unfolded, chin lifted etc., all invite communication and tell the other person you’re happy to be there.
Make sure your tone of voice reflects the type of conversation you’re having. This is especially important when you’re talking on the phone – it’s the reason telesales workers are told to smile, the listener can hear it in the tone of their voice.
Better communication, happier patients
Being able to have more effective conversations will help you and those you’re speaking to feel less frustrated and more valued as everyone will feel that they were able to get their message across and that they were listened to.
This is important in your personal life, but maybe even more so in your professional life as a dentist. Poor communication can often be a factor in claims brought by patients who feel the options weren’t explained fully or that they didn’t understand the potential treatment outcomes.
Mastering the skill of effective communication not only mitigates against the likelihood of such claims but it’s also part and parcel of providing excellent non-clinical care and building a happy, loyal patient base.