Are you emphatic or empathetic?
One of the most challenging aspects of being a dental professional is getting patients to accept and comply with recommended treatment plans including, or perhaps most especially self-care. It can be baffling and frustrating when patients ignore recommendations or simply fail to act. Add to the mix, a fast paced practice environment; and most of us, at one time or another have found ourselves emphatically telling the patient 'what they need.' Most often, the advice is ignored, and we feel disappointed or perhaps even angry.
Why don't our patients take our advice?
As humans, our natural instinct is to resist being told what to do. We value freedom and the ability to make our own choices. When someone tells us 'you have to floss every day' the brain automatically searches for ways to say 'no, I don't.' When this occurs, the end result is often the opposite of what you are trying to achieve; the individual continues to not floss.
Is there a better way?
Behavior doesn't change from knowledge alone; emotions are a critical component. Once we are confident that the patient has been provided with the appropriate information and knowledge about their condition, it's time to tap into the emotional side. One of the best ways to do this is showing our empathy for the patient. All of us struggle with adopting and/or changing behaviors such as eating healthier or exercising more. Finding empathy for our patient's struggles helps them feel understood and respected.
How do I do that?
One way is start the dialogue differently. Instead of asking if the patient is flossing, you might first ask if they are open to having a conversation about home care. This simple tactic gets them to 'buy in' and engage in the conversation. Instead of asking about flossing, you might ask something more broad such as 'what do you use to clean between your teeth.' You might consider asking what products they are familiar with for cleaning between teeth.
What can I expect?
At the beginning, asking questions and engaging in this type of dialogue can feel stilted, silly, or unnatural. You won't know what the results are until you see your patient again so it will tempting to give up and go back to the way that feels more comfortable. To stay motivated, there are many great books on changing behavior: