What My Dentist Taught Me About Communication

How To Convey Calm With Body Language

True confession. I have panic attacks at the dentist. In fact last time I went I was so embarrassed I didn’t go back for 5 years. Hence my 4 treatment visits this year. Luckily I’m rich. Well, not any more.

The thing is, apart from now being the proud owner of immaculate hole-free teeth, I learned a lot from my new dentist. He embodied the Art Calm Under Pressure. And it wasn’t just the generous supply of Rescue Remedy flowing like champagne from the dental spit cup. It was so much more!

1. Glide, Don’t Run
Nothing generates fear faster than abrupt, staccato movement. In body language terms it implies: “I’m busy!”, “I don’t have time for you!”, “Lets’ do this fast!” or even, “Danger, Will Robinson!” Darting, shifting or avoiding eye contact does not inspire confidence; instead they suggest a lack of mindful presence – the dentist would rather be somewhere else or you have a big big problem in your mouth that’s going to require a semi trailer and a crane.

On the other hand, a smooth glide says “I”m with you. I have time for you. I am paying you attention and do not intend to go anywhere else.” Willingness to make eye contact builds trust and rapport and you know, they are in it for the long haul. They truly see you and even understand your muffled questions. Their movements are languid and unruffled, suggesting an inner, saint-like calm.

Am I laying it on too thick? Well too bad. It worked for me! And of course, I joyously embraced (great distraction) analysing the parallels between nervous public speakers and nervous dental clients.

2. Reframe In The Positive
This dentist of mine kept up a steady stream of praise and positive feedback. I noticed when he said: “Oh this is going so well. Just a little bit longer”.  My cynical mind vaguely registered he may be telling porkies, but in that moment I chose to suspend suspicion and go with the trust option.  He gently suggested it was a good idea to buff and polish to finish it all off. “Buff and polish” sounds delightful, like a luxurious manicure you can only afford to get in Bali.

I now describe myself as a “Buff & Polish Survivor.” Two long months later and a lot of sensitive-teeth toothpaste have allowed the trauma of dental jackhammer ripping through my jaw bone, of trying to remember to do yogic breathing but really, just praying to a god I didn’t believe in, to get through it.

OK, I’m not intending to make a case for using misleading language. What I relearned was the power of language to influence and persuade. And how powerfully it can be used to settle anxiety and induce calm. And it can be used for the power of good or evil.  Just choose wisely folks.

3. Build Confidence
Working with nervous people necessitates sensitive interpersonal people skills and the ability to build rapid trust (“trust me, I’m a dentist!”). My dentist was very smart. He set out a plan of 4, sixty minute sessions. We began with the initial consult, a modern X-ray (boy things have changed in 5 years) and a tooth and gum brushing lesson (use a 45 degree angle on your gums). He even gave me a Utube link to watch professional teeth brushing.

Session 2 comprised of a review of my new teeth brushing skills (I got a gold star) and a simple upper jaw filling plus 1 needle. Easy. I breezed through the second appointment without even crying! A first!

Oh dear. Sessions 3 and 4 he had strategically left to last. By building my confidence in handling dental treatment I was amazed to experience hell in the dental chair. 3 needles at one point had to be administered. But handled it, I did. He was wise to leave the worse to last because if they had been first, I would not have returned and my panic would only have deepened.

The thing is, I survived. I’m a better public speaking coach for it. And, I have fabulous teeth. When I am coaching and training clients to work with groups, especially of a diverse and sensitive nature, I share the insights I was reminded of at the dentist:

1. Glide, Don’t Run – Slow down, relax and be present.
2. Reframe In The Positive – Choose your words carefully as they carry impact.
3. Build Confidence – Learning requires risk taking and that requires confidence and trust.

Have you booked your next dental appointment?  If so, I encourage you to observe your dentist carefully for the unexpected pearls you may pick up. In the meantime, feel free to join me at my one day workshop in Newcastle on June 29th or 4 day Public Speaking Goddess Retreat in Bundanoon NSW on Nov 22-25, 2016. And yes, nuts and ice cream will be on the menu so get your teeth done at least 2 months before!

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au

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