The art of NetWeaving

Oct. 1, 2003
Some people think hairdressers know the most about their clients. I disagree. I think dental hygienists know the most about their clients. We are, after all, very social creatures.

By Janet Hagerman

Some people think hairdressers know the most about their clients. I disagree. I think dental hygienists know the most about their clients. We are, after all, very social creatures. We love to learn about our patients' kids, jobs, families, pets, boyfriends/girlfriends, travel, hobbies ... the list goes on. If we're smart, we'll even keep personal pages in our patients' charts. Documenting and remembering personal information helps hygienists increase, maintain, and strengthen patient relationships.

To take this a step further, why not use this information to enrich the lives of others, as well as ourselves? Why not use this information to allow people to help many other people, like a ripple effect?

This is called NetWeaving, and it's the brainchild of my good friend Bob Littell, who wrote two books on the topic. NetWeaving takes networking one step further. The general idea of networking is for people to attend meetings, such as the local or national ADHA meetings, with the intent of making useful and mutually accommodating connections with people who will help them.

NetWeaving takes this a step further, adjusting the focus from how someone can make these contacts to how they can make these useful connections plus help others. The underlying theme is that what goes around comes around and, as you help others, you in turn will benefit.

It's a great concept, but does it work? You bet! Bob's books include many examples about how he and other people have benefited by helping others. When I read Bob's books, I fell in love with the idea of NetWeaving. I realized I've been doing it informally, yet I wondered how it could apply to dental hygiene.

In the dental profession, we're used to helping people. It's what we do. After all, we get paid to help people. So how can NetWeaving be used to help people in a way they don't expect?

Consider these scenarios.

In the first scenario, your patient, Mrs. Jones, has a special-needs child named Suzy. Suzy is also your patient, and you know she loves horses. Another patient, Mrs. Smith, directs a horseback-riding program for physically challenged children. This is the type of interesting information you previously would have recorded to remember about your patients. But as a NetWeaver, you now connect your three patients, and Suzy Jones becomes part of Mrs. Smith's program. Suzy's self-confidence soars — a huge victory for Suzy and her mom. It's also a win for Mrs. Smith, who loves to see children benefit from her program. You feel satisfied knowing you were responsible for the connection.

End of story? Not yet. Eight months later, Mrs. Smith calls you. Her good friend is a professional hockey coach. Unfortunately, knocked-out teeth are a professional hazard for hockey players. Her friend needs a team dentist to restore the players' smiles. Mrs. Smith tells them that you are the best hygienist on the planet, and your practice acquires an entire team of patients and their families! Although the intention is to help others, NetWeaving has a way of coming back to you.

The second scenario is that you attend a local hygiene meeting and meet a hygienist who is new in town and is looking for permanent employment. Although you aren't aware of any positions, you hook her up with the dental supply rep who services your office. You correctly figure that reps know about dental personnel in their territory. This proves to be a win/win situation. The hygienist finds a great job through the rep, and the rep helps out one of his clients by finding them a wonderful hygienist. You get two thank-you notes and feel satisfied knowing you were responsible for the connection.

End of story? Not yet. Two years later, the rep calls. He's moved to another company that is expanding their hygiene product line. The company needs a clinical hygienist to be a spokesperson for their products. It's a part-time position that requires the hygienist to write and speak, yet remain clinical. You have been thinking about cutting down your hygiene days and are looking for avenues to expand your hygiene experience. The job is perfect for you. Once again, although the original intention was to help others, NetWeaving comes back to help you.

The nature of the clinical dentistry environment and culture can be limiting and restrictive — in our office, in our treatment room, in our patients' mouths, all day, every day. Can this be boring? Only if you let it be. Can it be confining? Again, if you let it be. NetWeaving is a wonderful way to get out of this constricting cycle and attain new heights.

NetWeaving is a learned skill. Although some people can NetWeave more naturally, anyone can become a power NetWeaver. With practice and a few practical tips, NetWeaving becomes habit — a habit that benefits everyone. Like that ripple effect, you never know where your influence and connections may lead or the valuable results they'll produce.

Bob Littell's NetWeaving tips

• Always be on the lookout for NetWeaving opportunities. Train yourself to watch and listen.
• Be genuine and sincere in your NetWeaving.
• Become a well-rounded reader. (Go beyond clinical hygiene reading. How about reading the journals your doctor reads such as Dental Economics or Dentistry Today? Try reading books about psychology, leadership, self-improvement, or alternative healing. Some of my favorites are Play Like a Man Win Like A Woman by Gail Evans, Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell, and You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise L. Hay.)
• Accept the fact that NetWeaving is a learned behavior for most people. Practice daily.
• Spread the word about the effectiveness of NetWeaving.

Littell donates book profits to Junior Achievement, an organization that educates young people about business and free enterprise. He also makes his books available for fundraising projects, with profits going to the charity of the buyer's choice. I recommend that you read Bob's books (Power NetWeaving and The Heart and Art of NetWeaving at NetWeaving is a concept that is spreading like wildfire. Be the first to practice it and introduce it to your office and friends. NetWeaving takes us all to new heights of our careers, professions, and personal lives.

Janet Hagerman, RDH, BS, is a speaker, author, and coach for Hygiene Mastery. For a complimentary assessment of your hygiene department potential, call (888) 347-4785 or email [email protected].