Communication skills for the dental hygienist
Why is communication important to a dental hygienist? After all, the interaction with patients is limited because they can not talk while their mouth is being cleaned.
Actually, communication is the key to success, especially when it comes to explaining treatment plans to patients and allowing them the opportunity to ask questions as well.
To ensure the best communication, it is best that the patient is sitting upright and that all protective gear (e.g., mask, gloves, and safety glasses) are removed. It is important to build a rapport with patients because people buy from those they like and trust (Bacon 1999). Aim to learn something new about each patient every visit—write it down if necessary—and use this one piece of information to build a relationship with the patient that is based on something other than teeth.
Let’s review a few facts about communication. Nonverbal communication accounts for 65 to 70% of communication between people (Bacon 1999). Follow the patient’s nonverbal cues to determine if he or she needs more than just a few minutes’ explanation of procedures and treatment plans. Remember to treat each person as an individual with their own history in regard to taking care of their teeth and what currently brought them into the office.
Avoid power struggles with patients. A hygienist can repeatedly tell a patient that he or she has gum disease, but until the patient is ready to hear it, it will not sink in. The key is to be a broken record, repeating the same information, as it applies, to the patient. The patient will, in their own time, understand.
THE 7 CS OF COMMUNICATION
There are a few points to consider when it comes to communicating; let’s review the 7 Cs of Communication.
When writing or speaking to someone, be clear about your goal or message. What is your purpose in communicating with this person? If you are not sure, then your patient will not be sure either.
Minimize the number of ideas in each sentence. Make sure that it is easy for the patient to understand the meaning of what is being said. People should not have to “read between the lines” and make assumptions on their own to understand what you are trying to say.
Stick to the point and keep it brief. The patient does not want to hear 10 minutes of information when the message can be communicated in 3 minutes.
A concrete message includes details (not too many) and vivid facts so that the patient has a clear picture of what he or she is being told.
Correct communication is appropriate and error-free communication.
Coherent communication is logical. Further, all points are connected and relevant to the main topic, and the tone and flow of the text are consistent.
Complete communication is providing the patient with everything needed to be informed, and if applicable, make a decision.
Courteous communication is friendly, open, and honest. The patient’s viewpoint is always in mind, and communication is empathetic to his or her needs.
There are a few variations of the 7 Cs of communication, as well.
Is the communication credible? Does your message improve or highlight your credibility?
Does your message communicate creatively? Creative communication helps keep the patient engaged is what is being said.
We communicate every day, and the better we communicate, our credibility will extend to clients, bosses, and colleagues.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Asking the right question is at the heart of effective communications and information exchange. By using the right questions in a particular situation, a whole range of communications skills can be improved.
Open and closed questions
A closed question usually receives a single word or a short, factual answer.
For example, “Are you thirsty?” The answer is “Yes” or “No”; “Where do you live?” The answer is generally the name of your town or your address.
Open questions elicit longer answers. They usually begin with what, why, or how. An open question asks the respondent for his or her knowledge, opinion, or feelings.
“Tell me” and “describe” can also be used in the same way as open questions. Here are some examples:
- What happened at the meeting?
- Why did he react that way?
- How was the party?
- Tell me what happened next.
- Describe the circumstances in more detail.
Open questions are good for:
- Developing an open conversation
- Finding out more detail
- Finding out the other person’s opinion or issues
Closed questions are good for:
- Testing your or the other person’s understanding
- Concluding a discussion or making a decision
A misplaced closed question, on the other hand, can kill the conversation and lead to awkward silences.
This technique involves starting with general questions, homing in on a point in each answer, and asking more and more detail at each level. It is often used by detectives taking a statement from a witness.
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