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It's not all about me? Really?

July 1, 2011
How do we fuse our personality styles for the success of our dental practices?
How do we fuse our personality styles for the success of our dental practices?

by Judith M. Stein, RDH

I hope the term "hygiene diva" is never used to describe me. But if I'm completely honest and willing to evaluate my professional behavior, I wonder if I project a diva attitude without realizing it.

I think it's a very fine line between confidence and superiority. Yes, we all went through very rigorous professional training at our hygiene schools. It was where some of our professional attitudes and expectations were formed and shaped. We were under constant evaluation from our professors to project an air of confidence that blended with our personality style. We all have family characteristics and traits that were formed from birth. However, if we mature without an element of genuine compassion, an attitude of "I want it all, I can do it all, I know it all" may seep through, spilling over into our workspace. These behaviors are certainly not confined to the hygiene profession. They can sneak into other areas of our lives as well.

It's time for my true confessions. As I began to evaluate the effect I had on my coworkers, I realized I was projecting an attitude of superiority without meaning to. I wanted it all! I wanted to learn everything, practice everything, and suggest everything at every staff meeting. When I became crazy on fire for dentistry, I noticed fewer interactions with coworkers. Without meaning to, I felt isolated from my coworkers, and I was ultimately the one responsible for this. The more I pushed my great ideas, the more the less dominate personalities retreated, to the detriment of the success of our dental practice.

I wish I could say that this lightbulb of awareness turned on quickly for me, but unfortunately it did not. True to my learning style, it was more like a game of tug of war between whom I wanted to blame, and accepting the consequences of my actions.

Needless to say, as soon as this game was over, my journey moved forward. I sought out Teresa O'Brien of O'Brien Consulting Group, LLC, for professional advice and coaching. Teresa shared simple and effective advice that greatly improved my professional and personal behavior and communication styles. Whether you have a dominant or passive personality, the following ideas may enhance your life. I've italicized Teresa's advice, followed by my comments.

Share your passion and enthusiasm – it can be contagious. At the same time, be willing to promote other's ideas. Light a fire under someone else's ideas once in a while.

This suggestion allowed me to remain passionate about dentistry without squashing someone else in the process. It brought balance to my life and working relationships. I especially like "light a fire under someone else's ideas." When I finally toned down my impulse to dictate, I found it very gratifying to witness my coworkers suggesting and implementing great ideas. Getting behind someone else's great idea is very synergizing. Yes, passion is contagious.

We all have talents that others recognize in us. When we freely give of those talents to help others complete their work, we all win.

Recognize your coworkers' talents and don't hesitate to exchange those gifts with one another. To me, this is about "small acts of kindness." We all know how powerful it is when coworkers help us out with our end-of-day responsibilities. Simple and courteous acts of kindness can change our working relationships and lives. However, I believe one must be careful not to push unsolicited advice onto others. This does not mean to take over, negatively enable others, or prevent natural learning consequences from occurring. Stay attentive and willing to share your gifts when others seek your assistance. Not only does the dental team win when this principle is applied, our patients are the ultimate winners when our talents are used collectively, appropriately, and freely.

Be willing to draw on others' talents to help your projects, and be quick to give recognition of that help.

I believe that some of the most successful and brilliant people are those willing to ask for help, and then give recognition for that assistance. I have witnessed this with coworkers as well as patients. I have often thanked and recognized my patients for their honest feedback regarding new procedures or dental care advice I have offered. The attitude of learning from one another is always a win-win situation. This quickly establishes you and your patient as a team, not a solo act. Never hesitate to recognize your coworkers for their part in your dental team success. It is a very powerful act of personal security to seek help and then acknowledge someone else's part in your success. You will create very trusting and potentially lifelong relationships by applying these principles. On that note, thank you,Teresa O'Brien, for your honest feedback and willingness to coach me through this process.

Be sensitive to how others receive your conversation. Are they distracted, coolly polite, or wildly thrilled? Seek feedback as to how your idea can be upgraded. Warning: this can be a very humbling exercise.

Yes, this advice can be very humbling, but it can also lead to growth if you're willing to step back and evaluate your communication style. This is where I witnessed the effect my personality had on my coworkers. After seeking advice from Teresa as well as my office manager, I paid more attention to the subtle cues my coworkers exhibited during staff meetings. I watched for eye contact or the lack of it, as well as other physical movements and verbal cues. I began to pay attention with open eyes and ears. Yes, it was uncomfortable to self evaluate, but I wouldn't have missed the tremendous growth I gained from the experience.

Sometimes we tend to make comments at a meeting as a substitute for roll call. We want everyone to remember we were there.

The wise saying, "We were given one mouth and two ears; therefore, speak less, listen more" reminds me of Teresa's advice. There were times when I would fill the silent voids at staff meetings with unnecessary comments because I was uncomfortable with the quiet. Becoming more relaxed during meetings has helped me learn to speak when appropriate. To really become an efficient dental team, people need to communicate thoughtfully, concisely, and appropriately. Becoming aware of your own communication style and that of your coworkers can allow the team to stay focused and on track, and keep staff meetings brief.

It is good to build on others' ideas. Listen and acknowledge what the other person has said, then add any additional thoughts without using the word "but" (which negates everything that was said).

If you want to be known for truthful, honest, and compassionate feedback, stay away from using the word "but" when responding to someone. This suggestion from Teresa is spot on. Just put yourself in the person's shoes receiving mixed signals. Whether your honest feedback is positive or negative, explain how you feel without double talking. This effort still challenges me because I am more comfortable trying to please everyone. I've chosen to work on this struggle in order to become a person known for truthful, concise, and polite input. Thankfully, today I live for progress, not perfection, while I create new patterns of communication within me.

Teresa's background in the scientific corporate world encouraged me to seek out data supporting the position that groups perform better than individuals. I needed scientific proof that what I believed was actually accurate. Searching for this information uncovered a plethora of studies that validated my feelings and Teresa's professional advice.

One such study from Science Daily (April 23, 2006) cites research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and studies 760 students who were paired into different size work groups. They were told to solve letter to number coding problems individually or in groups of two, three, four, or five. This study, from the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), found that groups of three, four, and five outperformed the best individuals. Interestingly, small groups of two performed at the same level as two independent individuals.

Could this study suggest that a team effort in our dental practices is more likely to produce promising results than working in a solo atmosphere? For me, the answer is definitely yes. Yes, I needed to learn more communication skills that would not prohibit these results. I needed to take more risks that would benefit my work environment.

As I began to implement different nuggets of advice from Teresa, many positive changes happened in all facets of my life, especially professionally. Teresa's suggestions were simple, effective, and thought provoking. I realized that a person truly can blend an air of confidence with genuine compassion without wearing a tiara to work. So, how can we fuse our personality styles with the success of our dental practices? For me, it began with realizing:

  • It really isn't all about me. I work with an amazing team. Have the courage to be your enthusiastic self. Be passionate about dentistry, just don't squash others in the process.
  • Each coworker holds a piece of valued knowledge that I need to respect during staff meetings and professional conversations. I don't have to agree with the shared information, but I do need to respectfully acknowledge the input.
  • Each coworker holds a piece of the daily schedule. My hygiene patient is no more important than the dental assistant or dentist's patient. We are all in this together. Share one anothers' gifts and talents.
  • Each coworker influences the goal of practicing and delivering dental excellence, so who am I to believe it must revolve around me? Become a person who builds others up when their ideas are shared, instead of overpowering and limiting the conversation to only your perspective.

Join me as I continue to celebrate the amazing health care field we are privileged to share. Bring your passions and enthusiasm to every aspect of your career; just leave the tiara at home. Better yet, why not share a little glitz and glamour with your coworkers? Can you just imagine how much we could all shine together?

Judith M. Stein, RDH, is a 1981 graduate of Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. Judy has enjoyed a variety of professional opportunities in her hygiene career, is committed to lifelong learning, and is now employed in private practice. The author is an active volunteer in several professional, community, and faith organizations. She can be reached at [email protected].

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