Friendliness can be overdone

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Dr Mark Hassed

Do you think that your friendly relationship with your patients is the reason for your success? Well I say, think again. Your “friendly” manner may be doing you more harm than good.

A week ago a local bakery closed. My family had shopped there for several years. However, over the past few months, we’d started walking 300 metres further down the road to shop at a more expensive bakery. Why?

There were several reasons but the biggest one was over-familiarity by the new owner. Every time we entered her shop she acted like we were her long-lost best friends. She was bubbly, effusive and asked a lot of personal questions. My wife and I found her just plain offensive.

Eventually it became so offensive that we began walking the 300 extra metres to get our bread elsewhere. In that shop the staff were polite, smiling and prompt and they never forget who we are – we are customers, not friends.

Quite a few dentists feel that they must be friends with their patients.

They sit and chit chat about the weather, sport, current events, families and holidays. Most people are simply too polite to tell you to shut up and get on with it so they play along. Perhaps they pretend to like you so you will be more gentle with the needle.

But, at the end of the day, your patients know two things. Firstly, it is not real. If you were truly their friend then you would see each other socially. Secondly, they know the clock is running and that they are paying for the time.

Think back to the last time you bought a car. Do you remember how the sales person was your new best friend right up until you signed the contract? Did you find the pretence satisfying or did you find it annoying.

So my advice to dentists is to cut the chit chat and treat your patients as patients. Be warm, sympathetic, alert, focussed and intensely interested in their dental problems but give up on creating the illusion of being their best friend.

By the way, if you follow this advice you may save an hour a day or even more. You can use that hour to do more dentistry or you could go home earlier.

Either of those is a great outcome.

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