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Your Team Cannot Read Your Mind

People cannot read your mind. No one but you really knows what you are thinking, your hopes, your goals, your ethics, etc., unless you tell them. People can guess or make assumptions about these things, based on observing what you do, but ultimately, they won’t know for sure unless you tell them. Although this might seem obvious, you might be surprised at how many owners run their businesses in a way that requires mind reading in order to succeed.

Many dentists (and other business owners, for that matter) seem to have a general idea of where they want to go with their business, how they want to get there, and what they expect from their employees to help them achieve their goals. They may not know exactly what they want, but they have a framework in their head and some basic ideas of the details. Yet, many times they don’t voice this important information to the people that matter—or if they do, what they share is not clearly explained or defined.

How do I know that dentists have these general ideas in their heads? I know because when I talk to dentists, they are very clear with me about what they don’t want. They can easily express what they don’t like about their practice, things they wish their team members wouldn’t do, and so many other issues that clearly paint a picture of what they do not want. That part seems to be much easier for people to talk about and express. There is a lot of attention on what they don’t want versus what they do want.

Knowing it is easier to list the things you don’t want, maybe you can take that list and flip it on its head. I have found when I ask doctors “What do you want to happen?” it seems hard for them to articulate—almost like they have never thought about it in that way, or perhaps they are afraid to say it in case they are not achieving it after all. If you don’t say it and make it clear, no one will ever know what you want, which means no one will be able to help you make it happen.

Let’s list out a few examples of things I hear regularly about what owners don’t want…

Then see how each example can be turned around so that it becomes a clear list of what is wanted.

“I don’t want to hire people who are not going to work out well for my office.”

The opposite of this regularly stated complaint is: “I want to hire people who are going to work out well for my office.” Phrasing it this way, with the focus on what you do want to happen, sets a clear expectation. Now you are able to outline exactly what that looks like and how to accomplish it. Put simply, write out a checklist of the skills, personality traits, and attributes you want in your office, and then follow the checklist when you hire. Don’t just say you want certain things and then hire anyone that breathes. Instead, get help with hiring, so that you can be effective in writing clear job ads and designing a hiring process that succeeds in identifying the right candidates that fit this desire.

“I am tired of my employees not doing their jobs.”

If you were to flip this comment it would be, “I expect people who work for me to do their jobs.” Now that this is established, you can handle the three things to make this happen. First, make sure the employees know what is expected of them and that they are given the training and resources to be able to do their jobs. Next, make sure you hold them accountable and make sure they are doing their jobs. When their work is not measuring up, rather than expecting them to read your mind, tell them where they are off and how you need them to correct. Then, if they continue to miss the mark, communicate the necessity for them to get these things done if they want to keep their jobs (and if not, make sure to follow through on any steps outlined for this circumstance).

“I just wish my patients were not so driven by insurance and would follow the treatment plan that I recommend.”

If I were to ask you to flip it around now, do you think you could do it?

My suggestion for this one is: “I want to be less driven by insurance so I can help my patients do the treatment I recommend.” By changing the wording and saying this out loud, it helps you and your team identify where the issue is. Surprise—it really does not lie with the patient, but more on you and your team to approach the problem differently. The reason this is rarely said out loud in our industry is that it’s easier to put blame or responsibility on the insurance company or the patients than to look closely at other aspects of the problem, like, “My team and I are not great at case presentations.” By allowing your team to hear you say this, you can work with them to become better at presenting treatment, with the ultimate goal to help the patient get the treatment they need and not just allow them to pick services based on insurance coverage or what is least expensive.

Here is one final example, and it’s a tough one, so I challenge you to really think through what the opposite of this statement is:

“I wish I did not have to manage the practice and could just focus on doing dentistry.” The trick here is that in reflecting on what the opposite wording might be, you will realize that there is no way around being responsible for taking charge of managing your practice.

The opposite of the statement is: “I want to be able to manage my practice and not just do dentistry.”

When you recognize that this is the clear issue and you communicate it to people in your lives that can help you with this, it changes everything for you. You now have the freedom and energy to identify where you are struggling, business management or leadership. The only next step is to go out and talk to everyone you know about this until you find the help, guidance, and training you need to fix the issue and learn. When you consider the difference between a dentist who loves their practice and one who doesn’t, the difference is not the dentistry, it is running the practice.

Stop thinking that others can read your mind. No one will understand and support what you want to do in your practice until you are able to clearly identify and articulate it for yourself. Instead of staying stuck in the negatives about what you don’t want, get out there and figure out what you do want, and make it happen for yourself. Ultimately, your happiness and the success of your practice depends on it.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.