Happy talk

Dec. 1, 2003
When Bloody Mary sings the song "Happy Talk" in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical South Pacific, she sings from a beautiful tropical island in paradise.

By Janet Hagerman

When Bloody Mary sings the song "Happy Talk" in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical South Pacific, she sings from a beautiful tropical island in paradise. Easy for her to say (or sing). What about us — here in reality? How do we achieve that elusive state of happiness — and keep it?

Tony Robbins says that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your communications. This can be verbal or non-verbal. How you talk to yourself and others determines how you perceive and fulfill your expectations of a good day or a bad one.

How you talk to yourself is the first step in setting yourself up for success. We all have constant chatter going on inside our heads. Some people talk to themselves quite obviously while others think that's crazy. Whether you do this out loud or unconsciously, it's important to examine the quality of these conversations you have with yourself.

Someone once said, "You live in your mind. How's the neighborhood?" Are you hard on yourself, constantly criticizing? If you are, then you are probably hard on others, too. Fill the neighborhood of your mind with open-minded thoughts of encouragement, confidence, and creativity.

Try this script before you get out of bed each morning. Daily, ask yourself these three questions. Do this for a lifetime and never repeat the same answers.

• What am I most grateful for today?
• What am I most proud of today?
• What am I happiest about today?

Starting out like this practically assures you of a good day.

The most successful people I know never have a bad day. This is not because they don't have frustrations or stress in their lives. It's because they insist that every day is a good day. They start out by creating great expectations for themselves and those around them. Many people set their standards so low and then complain about consistently poor results. Create high expectations for yourself and others and verbalize your expectations often and in a positive manner.

You can use this with excellent results with your patients. Children in the dental chair consistently respond well to clear positive verbal expectations. I've also had remarkably improved results with patients who are gaggers using positive verbal reinforcement and praise. It's amazing and exhilarating to experience the level of outstanding performance people can achieve to reach higher and higher levels of expectation.

Non-verbal talk

Not all communication is verbal. Indeed, the most effective conversation is often non-talking. Listening to our patients often contributes to better communication than "educating" them. Those dreaded questions like, "Will my insurance cover this?" are really our patients' way of asking for more information. Listen to your patients for clues to their concerns so you can customize your answers ("educating") to their specific needs and personalities.

Bloody Mary's song, "Happy Talk," wraps up with this advice: You've got to have a dream so you can make your dream come true. In your professional career, your dreams are your expectations. Your "happy talk" is how you implement those dreams and expectations for a successful career of professional fulfillment and a personal life of happiness. I think Bloody Mary would approve of the following five steps to happy patients, happy staff, and a happy you.

• Humor — Laughter is the world's best medicine, according to the long-standing Reader's Digest. A sense of humor keeps our life and problems in perspective. Humor can calm a frightened child, de-stress an intimidated perio patient, and relieve staff tension. It's really hard to laugh and be in a bad mood at the same time. Having a sense of humor will lighten your load, enhance your performance, enrich your life, and extend your state of happiness to a consistently high level.

• Actively listen — Learn to listen with enthusiasm. Paraphrasing what you thought you heard lets people know you are paying attention, encouraging them to continue. Phrases such as "Tell me more," and "What do you mean by that?" results in clarifying the message for the listener, as well as the teller. Active listening produces a high level of empathy and understanding, which leads to happier communication.

• Praise — Praise each and every patient (kids and adults alike) at least three times during his or her appointment. I predict, with absolute certainty, that they will be happier, and you will, too. In order to be effective, the praise must be genuine. Also, praise a different staff member three times each day, or three staff members once each day. The results will amaze and delight you.

• Pita — This is a phrase borrowed from the retail industry that refers to an extra charge for people who are a royal "pain in the a—." We all know them. We all have them. What do we do with them? First, do not share their emotional baggage. It's not yours. Keep your sense of humor. We all have bad days. Praise them. Yes, find something — anything — to compliment. Watch for an emotional transformation in that pita person. You enabled that person to enhance their happiness. If they're still a pita, be happy knowing that your happiness is not a reflection of others, but is instead your own shining light.

• You — Share yourself in a big way! Lagniappe is a Cajun term. It means to give all that you are paid for, and then just a little bit more. Someone once said, "People who refuse to do more than they're paid for will seldom be paid for more than they are doing." Go the extra mile. Share yourself in a way that makes a difference to your patients, your team, and all those around you. And watch your happiness bloom.

Janet Hagerman, RDH, BS, is a speaker, writer, and the director of dental hygiene for Coast Dental. She can be reached at hager [email protected].