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Reach for a Better Thought

October 26, 2016

Filed under: Happiness,Leadership,Positive Psychology — Barry @ 12:41 PM

nigel-holmes-graphicThe first piece of advice that comes from Dale Carnegie’s seminal book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is don’t condemn, don’t complain and don’t criticize. In other words be happy and stay positive.

Carnegie published the book in 1936, and it has gone on to sell over 30 million copies. The book went on to be named #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books in 2011. The book may be responsible for launching the entire self-help industry. And his first piece of advice was about mental attitude.

I come into contact with so many people in so many professions and industries that have read the books and taken the courses – yet, I still hear so much criticism, complaints and condemnation. Especially these days. You can bet that if you have a stressful work-life there is plenty of complaining going on.

I assume if it were that easy then we would have happier people working in happier workplaces. I also guess that happiness must be in high demand if so many people have been spending their hard earned money on the search for joy.

Maybe they’re just going about it in the wrong way.

My recent blog posts have centered around my latest book, A Short Guide to a Long Career, which you can download free from this blog. This post is about improving your point of view which may just be a better starting point for happiness than trying to remember never to complain, condemn or criticize. I am a big fan of simple ideas that I can create habits of thought around…let me explain.

Tip #3 in  my Short Guide suggests that we improve our point of view. You know, as the famous guru once said, When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” 

The problem is that is hard to change the way we look at things. I love the idea of reducing complex ideas into simple rules of thumb. This is known as a heuristic which is defined as “Pertaining to the use of the general knowledge gained by experience, sometimes expressed as “using a rule-of-thumb.”

And heuristics can make our lives easy…if we can pull up the right rule at the right time. That’s why studying what truly creates positive emotions and happiness is more effective. Once we know what creates happiness and success then we can use our rules of thumb to create habits that will guide us on how to live a happy life.

And it all starts with mindset.

If you are unfamiliar with that word, or use it like just another common piece of your vocabulary, then I suggest you read Carolyn Dweck’s very remarkable book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

It’s a good starting point for those of us who fall into the “oh so human” trait of negativity through judgement which leads to —complaining, criticizing and condemnation.

In time we develop a more positive worldview or perception of how really is rather than some of the negative explanations we create that lead us down a gloomy path.

Dweck’s research led her to describe two basic mindsets: the fixed mindset which is also called the judging mindset, and the growth mindset. I won’t spoil this movie, but I will tell you that the growth mindset is preferred.

Short Guide to a Long Career centers around the growing field of positive psychology. After studying this field for the past ten years, I have enrolled in The Flourishing Center’s program for becoming certified in positive psychology. I am realizing the truth in what Michelangelo said after his career was over: “I’m still learning.”

I guess that is what is meant by having a learning mindset. But it’s not just about dentistry (or any vocation)…we really have two tasks—to learn an occupation that we love and to be a good person.

So if you don’t download my book – and you find yourself complaining, criticizing and condemning —here’s a little heuristic to get you through your days whenever you realize that your thoughts are making you feel bad:

Reach for a better thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Questions? What’s Your Role? SGLC 2

September 12, 2016

Filed under: Happiness,Leadership,SGLC — Tags: , — Barry @ 10:37 PM

Short Guide to a long career

I hope you are enjoying my new book, A Short Guide to a Long Career, if you haven’t downloaded your free copy, go ahead and do it now.

My last blog post revealed what the book is about: creating a career that provides the dentist with a vehicle to help him or her to thrive and flourish through their years in dentistry, using Dr. Martin Seligman’s Well-Being Theory—PERMA, which stands for:

  1. P-Positive Emotions
  2. E-Engagement
  3. R-Positive Relationships
  4. M-Meaning and Purpose
  5. A- Accomplishment

This past July I had the opportunity to go to the first-ever festival for positive education. I believe I was the only dentist in attendance. I got to meet some of the superstars of this burgeoning new field, including Dr. Martin Seligman himself.

I came away excited about the future of positive education. I truly believe, as Seligman states, we are looking at a “sea change” in education that will help young people to become the very best versions of themselves. I was excited because this is the heart of what I have been writing about for years.

There is no reason that we can’t bring positive psychology principles to dentistry…and medicine.

So excited that I enrolled to get my Certification in Positive Psychology.

But I digress. This blog post is about the most recent tips that were e-mailed to those who have downloaded A Short Guide to a Long Career. I want to discuss Tips 1 and 2 through the lens of PERMA.

The first Tip: Ask Yourself the Big Questions: – Dentists are obsessed with “how” to do things. I’m no different than most – I constantly seek out advice on “how” to do this new procedure or that new technique. The problem is that most of us don’t take the time to answer the bigger questions. Like why we even entered our career (yes, this isn’t restricted to dentistry).

I remember the first amalgam filling I ever did (over forty years ago). I remember how proud I was. So proud that I called my father to tell him. He asked me how long it took – I said two hours. He said, “How are you going to make a living doing that?”

That’s a true story. The problem is that it created a lens through which I looked at my entire career. Until I burned out.

Then I asked the deeper questions—like what is it besides money, that I need to get from dentistry?  I started asking the deeper questions after I was in dentistry for ten years. The answers are still coming.

There are plenty of people in dentistry who seem to have the answers – but it’s the ones who have the best questions that interest me more.

The biggest question for me is, “how can I reconcile the paradox between duty and desire?” To be a wonderful competent dentist and still create a great life. It’s a paradox we all must answer.

Tip 2- Establish Your Role:- Another speaker I heard at the positive psychology meeting was Dr. James Pawelski, the Director of Education at the Positive Psychology Center at University of Pennsylvania. He presented his famous thought experiment that you can see on You Tube if you like – it’s well worth the time.

The thought experiment asks us to consider if we were going to be super-heroes, what color cape would you choose to wear?

The choices are red and green. He tells us that if you choose the red cape then your role starts out as you having the power to fight against the bad things in our world. That’s pretty powerful in itself.

If you choose the green cape you have the power to grow good things in our world.

You must choose as part of the thought experiment. I sat there smiling to myself because as a dentist I thought how this fundamental question means so much to the role we play with our patients.

Either color works, and Pawelski has some advice (hint-reversible cape?).

As I said, it is worth going to YouTube to watch his presentation, but he also claims that the red cape/green cape paradox answers the fundamental principles of positive psychology.

The real question for me is: can I flourish and become the best version of myself (and can my patients?)- if I only wear the red cape and put out fires all day.

Think about it — Tips 1 and 2 are meant to get you thinking about that long career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Madoff I Presume

February 8, 2016

Filed under: Ethics,Leadership,Philosophy — Tags: — Barry @ 2:30 PM

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I don’t watch much TV these days, but last week I found myself watching two made-for-TV specials, one about Bernie Madoff and the other about O.J. Simpson.

Most would agree that these two were possibly the greatest monsters of our time. Most of us got to witness the behaviors of these two men. Madoff was particularly interesting to me because we came from the same town, and we went to the same high school.

My brother-in-law was in his graduating class. And Peter Madoff, Bernie’s brother was the president of my college fraternity.

Yes…they walked among us.

No real surprises there, but something struck me about the screenplay. Three times during the show Bernie Madoff repeated the line: “Trust is the basis for all long-term relationships.” Most of us who watched it heard the line because it was repeated again and again.

But most of us probably let it go by like a sudden chill in the room, or a fleeting pain.

Not me. This blog is about Trust, Appreciation and Ownership, and I have been writing about the importance of trust for dentists, in every human interaction…it is not only the basis of all long-term relationships, but the entire substructure of any well-functioning organization from a family to a country to a planet.

A few days later I got a phone call from a dentist who questioned what would happen if Bernie became a dentist, or a doctor rather than going to Wall Street. It could have happened considering his socioeconomic background.

Now, granted people like O.J. and Bernie are special cases…people who totally lack even a trace of empathy, and we all know that the opposite, people like like Mother Theresa, are just as rare.

So they don’t shock me.

What shocks me is the public’s reaction…to the SEC. The SEC is a government agency that is set in place to protect the public.

Who can we trust if we can’t trust those who are there to protect us? My friend, the dentist, was saying that we see this in our profession all the time…frtom every angle…the dentists, government, corporations, insurance companies and even the public itself.

In 1979, during the more idyllic days of dentistry, I traveled to Los Angeles to hear a presentation of alternative ways to deliver dental care. This one discussed the new retail dental office concept that was being set up in L.A. The first one was in a Sears store in El Monte California, a small industrial town just east of Los Angeles.

Two very polished salesmen spent two days trying to convince dentists that this was the future of dentistry. They were brothers, very well trained and very convincing. I left L.A. with a bad taste in my mouth…not because of the business model, but because of the way they objectified patients.

That was in 1979. I lost track of that concept, but not the language that I continued to hear over the last 35 years, from non-dentists and dentists alike who have objectified the patient experience and used trust as their method to persuade.

Very effective…and unethical. A paradox that would make anyone shiver.

Trust…the force that can be used for good or evil. We can choose to be Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader…yet mostly we sleepwalk through these choices.

I have witnessed dentists and doctors using the force for good and evil…it all comes down to —who are you?

For years, we in dentistry have seen outsiders take what used to be a “noble” ethical profession and turn it into business as usual. Who protected the profession?

Certainly not the dentists. Most went along with the status quo. I wonder why? Because we sure express our displeasure to each other.

Certainly not the insurance companies or corporations. They only talk about the human side of dentistry but continue to look at numbers and take away our autonomy- in one way or another.

And most important…not the patients. Many actually are crying out for more of the same.

At the end of the Madoff movie there was a voice-over as Bernie, thinking he was innocent, was blaming the system…the SEC, the public who he cheated because they wanted to make money because of their own greed.

He has a point…yes, my dental friends…we see this playing out everyday.

 

 

 

Is Dental Burnout a Public Health Issue?

February 2, 2016

Filed under: Happiness,Leadership — Tags: , — Barry @ 12:12 PM

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I haven’t blogged in a while. No, I am not getting lazy. I have been busy. I am writing a new book on leadership and communication for dentists.

I know…it’s a bland subject. I know…what can I tell dentists about leadership and communication that they haven’t heard before. I see their eyes light up when the speakers show them beautiful photographs of smiles.

I know where they spend their time and what they focus on.

But not me…for forty years I have focused on the human side of dentistry…the behavioral component.

And I have learned a lot, more everyday as strange as that seems. So I have decided to write a book about leadership and communication because those two terms seem to capture the entirety of the human side of dentistry is every way.

I truly believe what leadership expert John Maxwell says: “Everything rises and falls with leadership.”

If you want to be effective…study leadership.

If anyone has a better way to describe this highly complex subject, I am open to suggestions.

While doing my research, and trying to keep leadership and communication on the positive side of life because one of my core beliefs is that optimistic leaders are more effective and more successful; I found my self writing about  actual problems in dentistry.

The individual, the organizational and the community problems…the darker side of dentistry.

Stress.

Now, I know that’s an old story. We have all heard the news that dentists commit suicide more than any other group. I never got into that conversation…but I do know some victims. I know a lot more sufferers of depression and burnout.

Whenever we hear about a professional suicide we march out that old cliche’ about suicides and dentist…then we go back to work – as a friend of mine once said, “we are either crying or lying.”

One thing we all know, workplace stress is real and professional burnout is very common.

But we’re doctors, we are expected to have everything under control, right? Maybe that is why professionals have swept this problem under the rug for so long.

For me, the giant basket of information for the cure for burnout was to learn how to connect with people better and learn how to become a better leader. It worked for me.

For others this has become a big issue. And it’s finally beginning to trend.

A friend tipped me off about a physician in Oregon, Pamela Wibles, who has become an evangelist for physician suicide and burnout. She has written a book, Physician Suicide Letters Answered. The book describes the problem in the medical community through her own personal story.

After publishing an article about herself, she received hundreds of letters from physicians who have shared similar feelings.

I contacted her and told her that we have similar issues in dentistry.  Her website is www.idealmedicalcare.org/blog/. In her book and on her website she discusses some of the solution to this growing problem.

Of course this can be viewed as a blessing and a curse. Professional education is in dire need of reform…in every way. This problem has many causes….from professional school bullying and hazing to the extreme pressures young professionals go through in private practice.

The public needs to become more aware because of the implications of this problem. Mistakes in diagnosis and treatment will cost the public in the long run. Lawsuits will go up.

This is the tip of the iceberg. When this problem is more deeply explored we will find many more implications.

In the meantime if you have been effected by dental suicide, and burnout…leave some comments below.

 

 

 

 

Dentistry Then and Now

November 30, 2015

Filed under: Business of Dentistry,Leadership — Tags: , — Barry @ 2:30 PM

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In 1973, while in dental school I read the influential bestselling book, Working⁠ by Studs Terkel, the late Pulitzer Prize winning author.

In that book Terkel reveals a well-founded conviction, that our universal search is the one for meaning, the subject of Viktor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Terkel calls our jobs a search as well; “for daily meaning as well as for daily bread, for recognition as well as for cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”  The book is composed of interviews of people with many various jobs.  The common attribute in all of the interviews is “meaning to their work well over and beyond the reward of a paycheck.”

I recently re-read parts of Working.  I was particularly interested in the dentist, Dr. Stephen Bartlett who at that time had been practicing in a Detroit suburb for nineteen years.

The interview could have been done today.  Bartlett’s complaints about dentistry: that it was physically demanding (he stood all day and refused to change to 4-handed sit-down dentistry), that most patients were under stress, that he had to deal with cancellations and mostly that only he knew when he did a good job.

He also spoke about what  was appealing to him:  that he could practice dentistry as he liked (autonomy), that he had the opportunity to play a role in the lives of his patients by changing their appearance (meaning), that he was his own boss and could make his own hours.  I thought how similar the job is today…but like Viktor Frankl during his life—something happened…beyond his control…World War II.

In other words the landscape has changed. The human factors have remained the same.  Our jobs provide us with a sense of meaning and purpose.  No matter how much technology has made dentistry more pleasant…people still have fears and cancel.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Some might say, and I agree, that the sixties and seventies were the Golden Age of Dentistry.  It was a time when a dental practice offered as much autonomy as a dentist wanted.  It was the the ultimate in free enterprise.

We knew the score, graduate, specialize or open your own practice, hang up your shingle and go to work.  Easy-peasy.  If you were a people person, even better.  If not, no problem, just work some nights and weekends.

There have been many changes since those years.  The effect of insurance and third parties, as many dentists know, is not a simple equation.  Insurance has had the effect of lowering the standards and quality of dentistry by discounting fees and creating their own networks—no matter what the insurance companies tell us.

Pay peanuts—get monkeys.

Advertising may be the holy grail of the free market economy, but under the guise of “educating the public,” it has been abused to the point of bringing out the worst in dentists…and once again creating conditions that force (too strong? I know) dentists to work for less.

Then there is the economy and the shrinking middle class…and the expense of opening a practice.  Yes…there was a price to sitting down and doing 4 – handed dentistry, Dr. Bartlett.

Enough with the bad news.

There is good news—those things that appealed to Dr. Bartlett?  They still exist.  They’re timeless…and just like Frankl’s response in the death camps of WWII…it is up to us to respond to our present conditions.

It has become more difficult to practice with meaning and autonomy.  We must make our own meaning.  Leaders are meaning makers that is why I feel leadership needs to be emphasized in this profession.

 

Character Matters

July 27, 2015

Filed under: Leadership — Tags: , , , — Barry @ 11:15 AM

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I guess most people know who said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  For those who don’t, the answer is Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, arguably one of America’s greatest presidents.

There have been a few in our history…Abe Lincoln comes to mind.

Teddy’s renowned quotation, succinctly says more about character than most famous sayings.

And watching Donald Trump lately, confirms why he will never succeed in becoming president…as a matter of fact I wonder how he ever succeeded at anything…without a little help from his friends.

Character matters.  From Presidents to paperhangers.

Positive psychologists know this.  Martin Seligman PhD, the dean of positive psychology has written extensively on the meaning of virtues and character strengths in developing the “good life.”

His work classifies 6 core virtues into 24 character strengths.  Working with strengths can be a key to a successful life as well as becoming a great leader at any level.

The 6 virtues are:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge
  2. Courage
  3. Humanity
  4. Transcendence
  5. Temeperance
  6. Justice

When I look at “The Donald” I see a man who is way out of balance.  But then again, no one is perfect.

I don’t think he represents what Teddy meant by carrying a big stick.  It was a metaphor for “presence.”  Polls show that the American people are dissatisfied with our “presence” in the world —not that we should destroy everything in our path.  This isn’t the real estate business.

On the other hand, I think speaking softly says it all.  I hear wisdom, courage, humanity and justice in the quote, don’t you?

One of the reasons I consider myself a moderate is that I believe in the balance.  I learned this along time ago when I first went to the Pankey Institute.

These ideas are not new.  L.D. Pankey studied Aristotle.  The Greek spoke the same language of virtues that Seligman is bringing to life currently.

Sure I learned technical dentistry at the Pankey Institute, but I also learned the principles of being a good professional, which transferred to a “good life.”

The lesson for everyone (Presidents to Paperhangers) is that character matters.

We have problems in this country.  Many of the problems relate to a shift from a moral world to a materialistic world.  In the wake we lost character.

I am beginning to see a trend back to morality with books like David Brooks’ bestseller, The Road to Character.  

Essentially this post is about leadership.  We need leadership at every level.  From the White House to your practice to your house.

When I look back at my own life and practice I see it was the moral lessons that made all the difference.

When I go to vote I will be looking for character strengths and virtues…hopefully everyone else will as well….Goodbye Donald!

 

 

How is Your Charisma Score?

June 16, 2015

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Presentation is ubiquitous.  Someone once said, you can not, not communicate.  Most of us fall back on our habits and say things during the course of our workday that we wish we could take back.

Everything is a presentation, and you are the message.

I realized this years ago when I read Bert Decker’s excellent book on public speaking, You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard: Reach the First Brain to Communicate in Business and in Life.  That book set me on a journey that changed the way I communicated…to the critical emotional element of the human brain.

I have used Decker’s work for years, and now his son and daughter in-law have written a brand new updated version titled Communicate to Influence: How to Inspire Your Audience to Action. 

Some of the lessons that are discussed in both books can be gleaned from the titles:

  • Communication is mostly at an emotional level.
  • Leadership is influence and influence is communication.
  • Honesty and integrity count for everything.
  • The purpose of presenting is action.

With this in mind, why do some people seem to have it and others just never get it?  Can leadership and communication skills be taught, or do some people just have that magic “gift”?

CHARISMA

The word charisma can be misleading.  Charisma comes from the Greek kharisma which means: divine favor, or a gift from above.  The implication is that charisma can’t be learned.

Synonyms for charisma include inspire, empower, uplift and motivate.  Now those are words I would use for any leader.

Can you be inspiring, motivating, empowering and uplifting?  I think those things can be learned.

In one word, let’s call it charisma.

In their wonderful book Communicate to Inspire, the Deckers explain a very useful tool.  They call it the Communication Roadmap.  Imagine a grid with four quadrants.  The vertical axis describes how emotionally connected we are and the horizontal axis separates those communicators who tend to be self-focused versus other focused.

Each quadrant then describes the type of communication we use: Informers (lower left), Entertainers (upper left), Direct (lower right) and Inspirers (upper tight).

Guess where the charismatic communicators go…yep…the upper right.  Inspirers…highly emotionally connected and other focused.

When you think about it, if the goal for leaders is to influence and motivate people to action, then being nice, warm and likable really works…yet the dental community seems to be just the opposite.  I know that’s a generalization but we have a reputation for being well…paternal.

Many of us are quite directive.  We tell people what they should do, because that has always been our role.  Actually most dentists lean to the lower left quadrant…we inform people.  Under the heading of educating patients we think that is most effective.

Well, informing is actually the least effective…it’s not emotionally based and it’s self-centered.  It’s self-centered because it leaves us with the impression that we have done our jobs.

After all…we told them, right?

What’s worse is that this is what is taught in dental schools and most CE programs.  It’s the blind leading the blind.

Charisma can be taught.  It must be practiced…you can’t learn it from a book…my apologies to the Deckers.

Jack Kennedy, before he entered politics was not a very good communicator.  The story that Ben Decker tells in his book is that Kennedy went to Hollywood and watched charismatic actors like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.

Then he practiced (practice said Allen Iverson?), until he developed a persona that today means “charismatic leader.”

Think about what it might take for your case presentations to be better.  Better photographs?  Better explanations?  Better referrals?

Or just a bit of connection.

If you would like to learn more about leadership and communication, drop me a message…I am putting together a series of webinars.

 

 

Building a Team? Talent or Character?

June 8, 2015

Filed under: Leadership — Tags: , , — Barry @ 11:03 AM

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There is a lot of debate in Philadelphia these days about talent vs. character.  In a poll –talent won 60% to 40%.  I am on the character side—but then again I am fan of the NY Giants, but I live ten minutes outside of Philadelphia where Chip Kelly has been the subject of some interesting sports talk.

I want to say I am a fan of Chip Kelly.  I don’t know if he’s the next Vince Lombardi, only time will tell.  As a dentist who depends on teamwork to get the job done, I empathize with the Eagle coach.

For the unaware, Kelly recently traded his star running back, LeSean (Shady) McCoy to the Buffalo Bills.  McCoy then implied Kelly was a racist for trading away all of his good black players.  That’s when sports radio here in Philly blew up.

Why?

Because all evidence points to the opposite.  Kelly did not get rid of all his black players.  As a matter of fact, no where in Kelly’s long coaching history at any level can that be said.  Yet Kelly was asked to defend his position.  And he did it well.

Now I used to have a handle on the meaning of racism, but it’s become way to easy to throw that term around these days without any real evidence.  But I don’t want to get into that…just that watching McCoy through his years as an Eagle he seemed to me to be a loud mouth and a troublemaker.  Which brings me to the point of this blog post…when building a team…do you prefer talent or character.

I agree with Kelly…poor character can ruin a locker room.  Players with poor character traits can hurt more than they can help.  Sure they can win a game…but long-term they can tear a team apart.

I am a Giant fan – and when they went to the Super Bowl in 2008, Plaxico Burress helped to get them there.  One year later the Giants were on the road to another championship when Burress’s antics blew up the locker room…when he shot himself in the leg at a N.Y. nightclub.  Poor character kills.

When building any team, football or business, hire for character.  Character sustains.  Poor character people want to be treated differently because of their “star” status.  This can be a nightmare for a coach…and an employer.  Fairness is inherent in all of us…when one team member (or child) is treated differently, that’s trouble for the whole team.

That’s why I feel for Chip Kelly…I’ve been there.

 

 

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One Habit That Will Make You Unique

March 30, 2015

Filed under: Ethics,Happiness,Leadership — Tags: , , — Barry @ 11:08 AM

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And the Academy Award for Best Actor in a motion picture goes to…Eddie Redmayne…for his role of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.   What a moment.  The cameras switched over to a very disappointed Michael Keaton who was really counting on giving his acceptance speech.  That didn’t happen.  The Academy gave it to the relative novice because of the masterful job he did in portraying Stephen Hawking the Nobel Prize winning physicist and a victim of ALS.

Redmayne, in the tradition of many other great actors like Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, won the award because of the difficulty of the role.  It required putting himself in the place of an another and actually becoming that person.  For Lewis it was the palsied Christy Brown, for Hoffman it was the role of a woman, and for Redmayne it was Hawking, who has been confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak since 1985.

Amazing performances all.  The one quality that makes those roles possible: empathy.

The dictionary defines empathy as:

The art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.

As dentists we must master the “art” of empathy in order to be truly successful.  Empathy and the habits that are necessary to develop, will be the trait that will separate dentists in the future. 

We live in a time where there is a deficit of empathy.  Most of us are overly concerned with ourselves rather than “the other.”  It’s a paradox, but none other than the famous motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar used to say, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

I take nothing away from Michael Keaton and as I will explain I really liked his movie Birdman better, but as far as acting performances go Redmayne became Stephen Hawking.

You see, Birdman, Keaton’s award winning movie discussed just that sentiment.  It was subtitled, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.  What does that mean?

It can be summed up in a scene where Keaton is arguing with a reviewer about how good an actor he is (in the movie…not in real life…seems to be his haunting theme).  She tells him he’s a celebrity, not an actor.

WATCH THE CLIP:<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/4d5KovCbU8w” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

So what is the difference?  Today it’s easy to become a celebrity…yes, even in a field like dentistry.  I see so many dentists who are more interested in Facebook and Twitter (a theme also revealed in Birdman—when he walked down Broadway in his whitey tighties, I guess that was the unexpected virtue of ignorance.), than in truly treating each and every patient with empathy.  They want to become celebrities—smile artists.

Empathy is what makes us human.  It keeps everything real.  The question is, can it be developed or is it just something we have or not. 

I guess, if actors can develop it, we can create the habit of empathy.

When I studied the Pankey philosophy, I noted that L.D. Pankey used the word virtue a lot.  Aristotle used that word.  I never quite grasped what it meant to the Greeks, but the writers of Birdman also used it in their subtitle.

A virtue refers to actions taken to create a level of excellence.  It takes practice to develop excellence, and enough good habits lead to what Aristotle called the “good life.”

Dentists understand this when it comes to technical practice…but what about the habit of empathy, or as Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, before trying to be understood.”

What are some things we can do to develop empathy:

  • Become Spock-like.  Get into a mind-meld mindset.  Imagine yourself knowing what the other is thinking.

  • Follow the Platinum Rule—I used to think the Golden Rule was the right thing but the Platinum Rule states that you should treat people not as you would want to be treated but as they want to be treated.  As if you were the other.

  • Use creative storytelling to imagine yourself in the life of the other.  Great empathists like Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were masters of this.

  • Immerse yourself in the actual dental experience,  Feel that fear, feel the financial pressure.  Many dentists are masters of the “should,” without ever having experienced what it is to have extensive dentistry.

  • Practice the art of conversation.  Learn the language of empathy and take the time to understand patients.

  • Be curious about the lives of patients…as Pankey used to say, their circumstances, objectives and temperament.

  • Share your story with people…get deep.  Go further than small talk about the weather and sports.  As author Bren’e Brown advises, become vulnerable.

These are just a few of the things that we can do to practice empathy.  Readers of my book, Art of Examination, know that the dentists can build these into their daily practice…so in the end they will not only play the role of a real human dentist but they can actually become one.

 

It’s Not About the Teeth

January 5, 2015

Filed under: Leadership — Tags: , , — Barry @ 10:14 PM

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 12.22.40 PMEvery so often a patient enters my practice with a very interesting problem  The case that is pictured above is a good example that had me stuck. 

The patient came in with a toothache in the lower left quadrant.  She was convinced it was gum disease and wanted “laser surgery.”

Well, for those who know how I practice, I completed my comprehensive examination.  It revealed absolutely no gum disease.  What she thought was gum disease was a fistula associated with tooth #19.  But the tooth only had a small filling and I saw no reason to believe that caries was the cause.  I also noted that she had significant mobility on numbers 18 and 19.

Note the presence of occlusal disease…note the severe wear.

My biggest question was how she was able to wear down those front teeth…if she couldn’t get into the position to reach them.

What did I do?

Well, I am lucky enough to have some friends in high places.  I sent the photos and the records to twelve of my esteemed colleagues, members of my study club (that’s a plug for all study clubs).  We kicked it around for a couple of days and came up with a few possibilities.

Dentists are great for coming up with answers to tough technical problems.

I’m not going to give you the answer.  Most dentists love to solve these puzzles.  All I can tell you is that the answer was Sherlockian.

So I presented my case.

She was amazed and very happy that she didn’t need laser surgery because she could only imagine how much that would have cost.  I wondered how she would feel when I told her how much my restorative plan would cost.

The patient’s bigger problem, after the fistula, wasn’t dental…it was financial.  And it was real.  It was real to me and it was her number one priority in life.

She hadn’t worked in over two years.  She stayed home taking care of a disabled husband.  Things were difficult, like they are for many people these days.

I am not throwing this problem out to the dental community to see what types of solutions come back.  I am tired of all the “shoulds” I see on social media.

We have a big problem in this country.  Dentistry, with all of its technology and sophistication has the ability to fix just about anything these days…but the paradox is that less and less people are able to afford our advanced and innovative solutions.

As a community, we are better than that.  The dental community continues to get more and more fragmented.  Everyone has their own agenda yet we have a bigger more global problem that is growing everyday.

This is why there has to be a greater emphasis on leadership in our dental education.  I don’t know what the answer for this lady is…but it will be some combination of using my technical skills, and my leadership, planning and listening skills.  She doesn’t need a highly technical dentist to take care of her…just someone who cares enough about her.

I can fill this blog with case after case like this, most not as complex.  I see too many good people not getting dental work done because it is becoming unaffordable for them.  I would love to hear from you about what we can do as a community for this growing problem

If your solution lacks a sense of compassion, please put that stuff on Facebook or the other sophisticated dental sites.