Resting “angry” face
The resting “angry” face is important to address (angry should be replaced with something else but I will not use that word here). If you don’t know you’re wearing this “angry” face, that’s because it happens when you are unaware.
The first time I learned about this, I was working as a cashier at Walmart. It was early morning and I was just coming back from a break. Now if you’ve worked in retail before, you know that as soon as you get to the floor, you need to be your best self because that is what the customers expect to see. This, of course, includes a smile. However, I was focussing on my tasks for the day and not on customers that might be looking at me. That’s when the jewelry rep behind the counter asked, “What’s with the resting “angry” face?”
Surprised by her blunt question, I looked up and uttered “What?”
She explained to me that some people’s faces (not all) tend to fall into a very off-putting resting position that can make us unapproachable. Imagine walking up to the receptionist’s counter at a dentist’s office and seeing a receptionist with the above expression looking back at you. It’s off-putting, isn’t it?
The solution is to always be aware of what your face is doing, whether you’re working on a difficult task or helping a patient navigate their insurance. The thing about customer service is you are always “on”, so awareness of the expression you’re wearing at all times will significantly reduce the opportunity for the resting “angry” face to occur.
Have you ever gone into a store, tried to explain your situation only to be interrupted midway through with what the customer service rep thought was a solution? Do you remember how angry you felt that they weren’t listening to you? Interrupting a patient in the middle of their explanation demonstrates two things: impatience and a lack of understanding about how to really listen.
One of the key aspects of excellent communication is the ability to listen. The only way to do that is to stop yourself from thinking about what you’re going to say while the patient is talking. Listen to the patient. Listen to everything they have to say even if you don’t agree. Don’t jump in. The best way to provide a solution is to understand the whole problem.
If you understand the concept of selective hearing or, hearing what you want to hear, then you might know what selective listening is. It is selecting portions of the conversation that you think are relevant and basically ignoring the rest. The problem with this is that those portions you’re ignoring, though not important to you, might be extremely important to the patient. You can’t cherry pick what you want to listen to.
In order to be an effective listener and problem-solver, you need to let the other person tell their side of the story and listen carefully to all the details. Details, more than anything else, will help you to form the whole picture and fully understand the problem they want you to resolve.
Lack of empathy
Bad habits come in all shapes and sizes, but this is a biggie and one that can severely damage patient trust and your bottom line.
People tend to mistake sympathy for empathy, but there is a difference, and knowing the difference could change how you treat the patients that walk through the door. Sympathy is feeling bad for how another is feeling. You feel sympathy for someone’s tooth pain; however, empathy is understanding how the person is feeling by stepping into their shoes and relating to their pain.
Let’s be real. We are all patients. We’ve all gone to the dentist or the doctor with unknown pain or some other issue. What I believe everyone can relate to is fear. With pain comes fear, and empathy not only helps you to understand and relate to that fear, therefore providing a window to the right solution, but it also demonstrates to the patient that you want to help because they’re in pain, not because they will feed your bottom line.
Zlatin, A. (2018). Responsible Dental Ownership: Balancing Ethics and Business Through Purpose. Charleston, SC: Advantage.
Robert W. Lucas, Customer Service: Skills for Success (6th Edition), McGraw-Hill
Education, New York, NY. 2015.