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Working together as a team: Communication skills that help create a healthy dental office

Dec. 13, 2016
Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, discusses the communication skills that help create a healthy dental office.  

By Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD

Having great communication skills may be one of the hardest things to accomplish in an office. But with determination and a good attitude, it can be done! No one is an excellent communicator to everyone all of the time, and it is unrealistic to think otherwise. We can all, however, improve our communication skills.

Some of us think that our bosses should be the best at communicating what they want from their employees, but many times that is not the case. As employees, we can do something about the communication skills of those we work with; it is not that hard to do. It just takes some practice. "A key point is that you must take responsibility for your communication, whether you send it or receive it." (Ladew 102). We can only take care of how we communicate and not how others do it. So taking that responsibility on and trying some new skills to improve has to start with us. Some simple things we need think about are the following:

  • Being a good communicator starts with being a good listener. We have two ears and one mouth!
  • Don't take anything for granted, or assume that you know what they mean when you receive data. Always follow through and ask them to let you explain how you understand it, giving them an opportunity to answer questions or explain it better.
  • Go over any instructions you are given in a short manner back to them, so that they have the opportunity to change something before you take it on and then do something wrong because you misunderstood.
  • Don't expect others to read your mind. You have to explain things in a simple way so that both of you are clear with what is expected.
  • If you can get instructions in writing, this is great and will help with missed signals. We don't want to totally rely on verbal commands.
  • Having a helpful and courteous attitude toward people that are trying to do what you ask of them goes a long way, and will determine how hard they will try to do it right and how much time they will put into a difficult assignment. If you don't appreciate what they are doing for you, then don't expect it to be done right!
  • Be brief and as clear as possible in your instructions, eliminating unnecessary words or side notes.1

Having good communication skills is not always just giving instructions for others to follow. Many times, it is just "getting along" and being respectful with colleagues. This can be the more challenging skills to learn. When you have improved, though, it makes your work place so much more enjoyable to be in and is worth the effort.

I just heard a fantastic key note speaker at our school the other day. He had some great insight and advice for our group that I think would be helpful to any group of people that work together. Some of it was "common sense" things, but when you reflect on these, you will see how many of them are "easier said than done." If they could be done and everyone was on the same page, it would make our communication skills so much better. I hope you will find them as useful and worth some time reflecting on as I did.

  • "Common sense" is not as common as it used to be!
  • Seek excellence, not perfection!
  • What you choose is what you get.
  • Make sure you are "relevant" in your workplace. Do they really "need" you for the office to be successful?
  • How you change is how you succeed.
  • If you are no better this year than you were a year ago, then you are worse off. Change that!
  • Go from being "transactional" to being "transformational."2

A very important point that this speaker had was that, if you want to be successful at what you do, then you need surround yourself with the kind of people that you want to be more like. If you want to have better communication at your workplace, then change your communication skills to improve them and stop complaining about everyone else's. You can only work on your skills! If you surround yourself with negative thinkers and complainers, you will become that. Choose to be positive and make things easier and better. Don't be that "negative Nellie" that no one wants to work with, and if you have one of those at your office, then don't be a part of the negative conversations that he/she starts. Choose not to listen to it.

Good communication skills are not born in you. You have to work at them every day and be aware of your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and what you are saying. Give yourself and your coworkers some slack, and realize that no one is perfect and we will never have a perfect work environment. But we can try to improve and make it as good as it can be.

Poor communication skills can be very frustrating to try to understand and can lower morale in a work group. When those at work backstab each other and are negative about coworkers, it makes for a long work day. Choose not to be like them and "kill them with kindness," use good manners, and be respectful to everyone you work with. Others do watch how you act and react, and you may be that person that others will try to be more like. You can be the good change that an office needs for better communication skills. It will take time, but it is worth the effort. Good luck and happy scaling. RDH


1. Ladew DP. "How to Supervise People: Techniques for getting results through others". National Press Publications, Division of Rockhurst College Continuing Education Center, Shawnee Mission: Kansas
2. Qubein N. President of High Point University, N.C., author of several books and member of National Lecturers Association. Lecture given at Forsyth Technical Community College on August 9, 2016.

Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD, is the Department Chair of Dental Education at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Whisenhunt has taught since 1987 in the dental hygiene and dental assisting curricula. She has a love for students and served as the state student advisor for nine years and has won the student Advisor of the Year award from ADHA in the past. Her teaching interests are in oral cancer, ethics, infection control, emergencies and orofacial anatomy. Dr. Whisenhunt also has a small continuing education business where she provides CE courses for dental practices and local associations. She can be reached at [email protected].