Dental hygiene is hard work both physically and mentally. Add in layers of personal protective equipment and grumpy patients (and maybe grumpy coworkers), and the last year likely ranks as one of the toughest most of us have ever faced. As pandemic fatigue wears us down, we may feel powerless. The workdays become a struggle, and sometimes it seems as if we’re falling down a rabbit hole.
When things seem out of control, like they have during the last year, it’s common to feel powerless. When we feel powerless, we may have a hard time focusing or making decisions, or we might believe that patients or coworkers judge or view us negatively.1 In an ideal work setting, a good employer will empower the team, and in turn, the team will empower one another. As we all know, the past year did not help create ideal work settings.
No one should stay in a toxic work environment. Whether you need to leave your current situation or simply want to feel more energized each day, it’s important to embrace your personal power. Personal power isn’t just about being powerful. According to Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges, personal power is believing and trusting in yourself and your feelings, values, and abilities. She calls this type of empowerment presence.1
What does presence look like? You know those people who seem comfortable in their own skin, are poised, speak with confidence, and exude passion and enthusiasm for what they do and for life in general? These people have presence. When we interact with someone with presence, we feel the full weight of their attention and focus, and this builds a strong connection. This makes people with presence powerful influencers. People with presence are viewed as more believable, better communicators, and better workers.1
Presence is not something people are born with, nor does someone have to be an extrovert to have it. Developing presence is a core skill that anyone can build. It won’t give you skills or abilities that you don’t already possess, but it will help you unlock and share your talents, courage, and generosity.1 Presence helps you get out of your own way. When you believe you are competent and capable, you are.
Developing presence starts with body language. According to Cuddy, how you carry yourself is a source of personal power. When you expand your body, you expand your mind, and the result is presence.1 One way to expand your body is with power poses. A common power pose is the superwoman/superman pose—head up, shoulders back, and hands on hips. Cuddy and colleagues studied this pose. They took saliva samples before and after subjects held the pose for two minutes. They found this high-power pose increased testosterone by 19% and decreased the stress hormone cortisol by 25%. In comparison, they had a control group hold a low-power pose and found the opposite result; decreases in testosterone and increases in cortisol. More importantly, high-power posers said they felt more powerful, confident, assertive, less stressed, less anxious, happier, and more optimistic.1
Will you strike a superwoman (or man) pose in front of your patients? Probably not. Moreover, it’s not a weapon meant to intimidate but rather a tool to enhance your personal power. The good news is that Cuddy found people do not have to perform the pose to get the positive feelings associated with it. All someone needs to do is visualize themselves doing the pose, and it can have a similar effect.1 One power pose that could easily be done when talking with patients is steepling of the hand. This is where the tips of the fingers touch, and the palms are spread. It’s also called finger tenting. Steepling communicates confidence and trust in one’s self and an affirmation of thoughts and beliefs.1
Is presence and personal power as simple as body language? Of course not. Expansive body language helps open the mind. Verbal communication skills are still important. Learning to listen is essential. When people feel heard, they’re more open to listening. When we listen without judgment, we can craft a response that’s more attuned to the needs, wants, and concerns of our patients. They, in turn, are more likely to hear us. When we can align our speech, tone, facial expressions, and body language, we are present.1
Presence is how you show up at work and in life. Your personal power and presence are skills that you own, and no one can take them away from you without your permission. You don’t need the approval of the doctor, staff, or patients to have presence. It’s easy to focus on the behavior of others—patients who show up late, inconsiderate coworkers, or doctors who don’t seem appreciative. Yet every time you do this it takes us out of the present moment and robs you of your personal power. When you have presence, people know it and feel it. You can walk away knowing you did your best regardless of the outcomes or anyone else’s opinion about it.
Presence is vital to success in clinical practice. When you have presence and talk with your patients about their oral health needs, your energy and passion will demonstrate how much you believe and value the recommendations that you’re making. Presence elevates, and it allows you to be the best version of yourself. You deserve it, and dental hygiene needs it.
1. Cuddy A. Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. 2015. New York, NY. Little, Brown Spark.