What Has Emotional Intelligence Got To Do With Owning or Working In A Dental Practice?

Most of us are familiar with the idea of IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Designed to measure intellectual intelligence, it gives a score (your IQ) from a series of tests. High IQs indicate better cognitive abilities, or the ability to learn and understand. People with higher IQs are more likely to do well academically without exerting the same amount of mental effort as those with lower IQ scores. Dental undergraduate students are selected (mainly) on the basis of their IQ…

However, IQ is not the whole story. Plenty of high IQ folk struggle to be successful as they can score less well on some of the other quotients such as: Emotional Intelligence, Physical Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence. Sure, a dental practice team needs plenty of IQ between them, but this isn’t enough and the missing intelligence in many practice teams is EQ.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to: recognise, understand and manage our own emotions and recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others.

Let me give you a recent, real life example of a (well meaning) practice team demonstrating low EQ:

I was sitting in a practice waiting room recently waiting to meet with the principal. A middle aged woman arrived with her 16 year old son, who was seeing a dentist at this practice for the first time. This practice’s patient journey includes telling the new patient about the facilities and the layout of the practice, including where the lavatories are situated and a reminder that they have very nice refreshments for patients, including a fabulous espresso machine. Being a mid-morning appointment, the receptionist enthusiastically asked the Mum whether she would like a coffee and whether her son would like anything to drink. Both seemed rather overwhelmed by our receptionist’s enthusiastic display of hospitality and continued to look at the floor. Not having succeeded on the drinks front, our determined receptionist asked whether they would like anything to read, pointing out the fresh daily newspapers on the low table. The new patient and his Mum declined while continuing to stare at the floor. A little later, a dental nurse arrived in reception, the same dental nurse which, in a few minutes, would be with the new patient in the surgery. She introduced herself, explained that they weren’t ready to see the new patient yet but would they like a coffee while they waited or a newspaper? The couple tried staring at the floor a little harder wishing all these well-meaning people would simply leave them alone. And then the dentist turned up asking if they had been looked after? Offered a drink? Did they know where the loos were etc etc.
I was so uncomfortable by now, I was tempted to jump up and take on the role of advocate for the Mother and Son, saying to all these professionals, “ Look, it’s their first time in a strange, new practice, your new patient is clearly nervous and his mother is anxious too. You’re trying to make them feel welcome and at home, but instead you’re making them uncomfortable. Can’t you see they just want to be left alone?!”

And here are a few more examples you might recognise:

  • The dentist who starts a fillings treatment only to find the tooth needs a root treatment and ploughs on without informing the patient of the cost of the treatment.
  • The nurse who puts pop-music on the surgery music system despite the patient being 80 years old.
  • The receptionist who calls an elderly patient by their christian name without this being ok’ed by the patient
  • The nurses (or dentists!) hanging around reception having a good old gossip about what they got up to last evening.
  • The receptionist who, when answering the phone to someone who’s in pain, fails to show any sympathy and asks them, “if they are registered…”
  • The practice owner who takes his team out for a nice meal and many of them (and/or the practice owner) drink too much booze before they sit down to eat and so the meal rapidly deteriorates into (literally) a bun fight…

These are small things. But getting these things right will help create:

  1. Patients who notice and enjoy the professionalism of the whole practice team.
  2. A practice team who feel professional, respected and well-treated by the practice owner.
  3. A practice owner who feels they are being professionally assisted by their team (not let down).

Of course the first step in developing a high EQ Team is to recognise that you are part of a low EQ team! The paradox here is that low EQ teams often fail to recognise this and blame everybody else when things aren’t going well!

Having plenty of EQ within your practice team will make the difference between having a well-run practice with plenty of content patients, happily referring their friends family and colleagues for treatment and a quiet practice with gappy books and a high turnover of discontent staff. So there’s a lot to play for.

People with high EQ can read a situation quickly and respond appropriately. The lead decision-maker/practice owner has to have this skill and has to model it for the practice team. If the lead/practice owner behaves like a bull in a china shop, there will be a lot of breakages!

And look out for high EQ when you are recruiting. Here are some ways in which people with high EQ behave. People with high EQ:

  1. Are empathetic and curious about others
  2. Are great listeners
  3. Focus on the positive (don’t see the world as “glass half-empty”)
  4. Are gracious and show humility
  5. Embrace change
  6. Don’t pursue perfection
  7. Are self-motivated
  8. Know that every day brings something to be thankful for
  9. Know their strengths and weaknesses
  10. Are not easily distracted

The main skill we want here is empathy. If your team doesn’t have enough of it, then they will quickly wreck your practice…

Again, the lead decision maker/practice owner has to behave empathetically, not just with their patients but just as importantly with their team and colleagues. Being empathetic with the team, with colleagues and with patients is essential to success. Surrounding yourself with a team who can also behave empathetically and demonstrate high levels of EQ will ensure that when you are not present, not in control and not there to sort out the messes, your team will be able to cope magnificently!

Leaders with empathy have the ability to:

  • Put themselves in someone else’s position – It’s easy to support your own point of view. After all, it’s yours! But take the time to look at situations from other people’s perspectives.
  • Pay attention to body language – When you listen to someone and they cross their arms or yawn, or cannot meet your gaze, or move their feet back and forth, or bite their lip, their body language is giving you important clues as to how they really feel about a situation, rather than the words they are using. Getting good at reading body language will give you the whole story not just parts of it.
  • Respond to feelings – You ask your nurse to work late, again. And although she agrees, you can hear the disappointment in her voice. Rather than ignore this, find time to to talk to her (during working hours!) about how working late makes her feel and how you both can help avoid this and deal with it when there are no other options.

Empathetic leaders help develop the people on their team, challenge others who are acting unfairly, give constructive feedback, and listen to those who need it.

Of course the time to really display a high degree of EQ is when faced with a patient complaint. It is also true to say that practices demonstrating high levels of EQ will receive less patient complaints…

If you want to read more about EQ. Have a look at:

If you would like help with improving your behaviours and/or those of your team, contact me for a chat.

Best wishes,


e. simon@nowbreathe.co.uk
m. 07770 430576

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