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Don’t Get Stuck in the Headwinds

Posted May 16, 2017

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

headwindSome people will resist change at all costs.  Throughout my career – and my whole life, really – I’ve learned change is inevitable.  Mostly, I embrace it.  But sometimes change can be the hardest thing we can go through.  I’ve learned that, too.  You have to just put your head down and brave the headwinds that try to stop you from going forward.  Even if those headwinds slow you down, you have to keep moving.

The good news is, if you make small corrections along the way, it’s possible to avoid a BIG correction.  But not making those incremental changes means a big correction always looms on the horizon.  It’s there.  And the more you ignore it, the bigger it gets.

In my own case, I never thought I would get a divorce. I never gave up hope. Instead, I kept pushing through those headwinds.  Persistence is a trait that has always helped me in life, but this time, it simply didn’t win.  It became obvious that a change in direction was necessary.  It would be painful and sad, but liberating at the same time.

All kinds of struggles in life make us grow and become better. At a recent METal leadership conference in Los Angeles, I learned when you make small corrections with growth, it’s not nearly as shocking (or painful or difficult) than if you resist and get hit by a huge correction.  You can do the work now and keep doing it as you go along or choose to wait until later. That choice will determine your success and the ultimate results. Early and steady effort means a much better outcome.

But I don’t have to tell you… procrastination is a part of human nature.  We can control how much a part of our own human nature it is. Think about this:  you notice a few termites in your garage. Instead of calling an exterminator right away, you choose to put it on the back burner. It’s only a few termites. Next thing you know, a few months have passed.  You make an appointment and learn the termites have feasted not only on your garage, but also on your living space and even the structure of your home. Did this situation have to reach the point of near-collapse?  No. If you had chosen to act immediately, the damage could have been prevented.

In dentistry, we practice preventive care when we educate patients who have four or five millimeter pockets about infections or endotoxins (“bacteria poop”). If the condition is left untreated, the results could be very serious. It’s best to take care of it right away and schedule any follow-up treatments before an inevitable huge correction is festering right in your mouth. Procrastination rarely – if ever – pays off.

Life is this way, too. Taking care of a small issue puts you on a path of better results. Letting things go leaves you with fewer options and a much more painful process down the road. It sounds logical, even simple. So why, then, do we not act? In many cases, it may be fear.  Sometimes, it might be an inability to face conflict and reach a win-win solution.

Education can help us better understand ourselves, as well as our team, patients and community, and improve our communication. Since I’ve been practicing dental hygiene, I’ve educated myself in the DISC personality assessment. Figuring out whether my patient is a D, I, S or C helps me pinpoint their fears, their motivators and what they want. Being aware of these factors helps me be a sensitive, empathetic hygienist. I effectively communicate with my patients and find ways to help them achieve better health and a more satisfying life. Sound far-fetched? Not really.

By using DISC, you can figure out a patient’s fear. As you continue communicating with the patient, you can uncover their motivator, whether they value health, money or vanity. Then, you can tailor your treatment recommendations when you talk about what they need. Here’s an example: If someone values vanity and they need their teeth bleached (whitened), I would tailor my description to point out that teeth bleaching is said to make people look 10 years younger.  Anecdotally, I’ve had patients who get their teeth bleached and their friends ask whether they’ve had a facelift. Their friends just couldn’t figure out why they looked so much younger. All it took on my part was listening to the patient and using my education to help assess their wants, then mesh that with what they need.

Some clinicians will immediately give the patient a laundry list of the things they want them to do. That’s definitely not effective two-way communication. Instead, listening about their concerns and asking the right questions can help you arrive at the best outcome.

How does your office work? Is communication clear on both sides? This kind of communication could be a big change for many offices. But as we’ve learned, change – even if we have to put our heads down and face headwinds – keeps us moving forward. Dentistry is constantly changing.  Making small changes earlier makes us better. The sooner we identify changes and start making them, the better the outcome will be. You can be the change agent for your office, for your patients and even for yourself.

A better way is out there. I’m obsessed with finding it. Don’t wait. Don’t risk being blindsided by a huge correction that could knock you off course. Instead, keep your progress steady and you won’t be stalled in the headwinds.

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