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Dentists Who Get Results: The Extraordinary Power of Emotional Intelligence

The business literature from Harvard Business Review to MIT’s Sloan Management has been filled with the revolutionary findings of David McClelland, Robert Cooper, and Daniel Goleman. Research studies on some 2,800-star performers done by Harvard and Rutgers show that 75% of high achievers' success comes from Emotional Intelligence (E.I.), while 25% comes from necessary technical competency. The first of a twenty-article series by Dr. Bob Frazer for Dental Economics.

Every major discretionary (dental) purchase is first and foremost an emotional decision. Effective leadership of practice demands emotional competency. Therefore, E.I. is central to our success.

As a practitioner, speaker, and performance coach to dentists for over twenty-five years, I have seen a pattern among the dentists and teams with whom we've worked. Often the most intellectually gifted (high I.Q.) and technically excellent dentists seem to be on a never-ending journey to elevate their technical competency. But, many end up frustrated, sometimes even depressed, as they encounter countless recurring leadership and staff problems, plus no matter how much they learn, they can’t get most patients to elect their finest service.

At the same time, I encounter good dentists, generally well trained, with half the technical training, who have happy, prosperous practices with patients wanting the dentistry they offer. So what is the difference? I am convinced one must have technical competency, but the difference … particularly among the star performers is Emotional Intelligence.

"Emotional Intelligence is defined as our capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and our relationships." It involves four key domains with a subset of eighteen emotional competencies. The four domains are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Research has shown with unprecedented precision, that unlike I.Q., E.Q., your emotional quotient can be raised through emotional competency training and coaching.

Let me illustrate my point with a recent experience. During a visit to one of my new performance coaching clients, I sat in on a case presentation. My client had prepared models, photographs and a computer-generated treatment plan. The patient, Kathy, and her husband, Ed, were welcomed and escorted to the consultation room where the doctor greeted them warmly and introduced me, the visiting doctor (who they knew would observe).

They were a healthy looking, casually well dressed couple in their mid 60s. This was a second consultation for Kathy in order for Ed to understand his wife's problems and recommended treatment. My doctor/client had recommended full reconstruction beginning with the maxillary teeth. Kathy's primary need when she presented was the correction of her appearance from the upper second bicuspid to the second bicuspid. She had congenitally missing laterals that some years earlier had been replaced with a Maryland Bridge. There was moderate wear on the upper and lower anterior teeth, plus a number of discolored large old composites. Kathy was physically attractive, but her smile clearly detracted from her appearance, causing her to look 10 years older. She was soft-spoken and was most concerned about the implants that had been recommended.

Ed was quite warm and extroverted. He projected the charisma of one who was a leader. After too short an initial dialogue, my client jumped right into Kathy's problems and how they could best be solved with a combination of implants and crowns. When the word implant was mentioned, both Kathy and Ed's brows wrinkled slightly and they looked either confused or concerned.

My client was on a roll with her models, photos, plus pictures of implants, and it was about five minutes before she stopped to ask if they understood or had questions. They were concerned about the surgery and the appearance of implants. My client fielded that technically quite nicely, then noted that bridges could be used and surgery avoided.

They liked that idea. But, then Ed wanted to know what just the upper dentistry would cost since he was a little shocked by the total fee for upper and lower (~$30,000.) My client answered about $12,000. But, she did not help him understand the fact that the upper needed to couple well with the lower and that without restoring the lower, there would be an over contour of the lingual of the uppers. In turn, this would accelerate the wear on the lowers, and within five years, Kathy would have to have the lower restored, and then the upper would have to be reshaped or remade.

Very quickly a complete reconstruction was degenerating into segmented treatment for only the most visible. My client was unwittingly unselling the case, not because of technical competence (she has extensive post-graduate training), but because of a lack of Emotional Intelligence. She was not resonating with this couple.

It was obvious to me when Ed and Kathy arrived that they were people of means, who valued health and wanted to do what was best. They simply were concerned about surgery and I sensed they did not want to compromise treatment. How did I know that? Through EQ.

Although I was not there to enter into the dialogue, I couldn't resist! I simply asked to see the models and then asked my doctor/client the implications of not doing the lower teeth at the same time. As she described the negative implication, I watched Kathy and Ed's facial expressions. This was not what they wanted. Then, I simply said, "You two strike me as people who want things done once and done well." They nodded in agreement and I said, "Then it's crucial to do these together." I added that doing both together would add youthfulness to Kathy's smile and face.

My client later thanked me for saving the case. Much of our coaching work will center on elevating her EQ, so that she can raise her awareness of her own and others' feelings quickly, responding gracefully in a resonant and motivating way.

No discussion of Emotional Intelligence would be complete without visiting its origins. It really began in about 1970 with the work of Harvard's David McClelland. He was exploring the ingredients of superb job performance. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Fredrick Taylor had proposed that the best human performance was the measure of human work against the machine. IQ, the capacity of the human mind, soon replaced Taylorism. Following that personality arose as a key ingredient to excellence. But, somehow neither seemed to adequately predict success. Some of the highest IQ people and some of the most attractive personalities were dismal underachievers. McClelland was hired by the State Department to assess the capabilities of the most outstanding diplomats. Selection for a diplomatic post was based largely on tested abilities in things like history, cultural understanding, language fluency, or special knowledge in fields like economics. However, the tests did not correlate with success in the field. In fact many of the best foreign-service people had barely qualified!

McClelland created radically different tests like having people watch snippets of videotapes of people talking about emotional situations or having an argument. He used an electronic filter to alter sounds. What came through were tones and nuances of body language that revealed how a person was feeling. He found that the stars scored much higher than the average diplomat. Daniel Goleman, whose writings where researched for this series, was a graduate student of McClelland, and it is his books, Emotional Intelligence, Working with Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, that have popularized E.I. into the business literature of today.

McClelland's consulting firm Hey/McBer pioneered the research of high performers noted in the first paragraph of this article. Goleman states, "Paradoxically, IQ has the least power in predicting success among that pool of people smart enough to handle the most cognitively demanding fields, and the value of emotional intelligence grows more powerful the higher the intelligence barriers for entry into a field. In careers like engineering, law or medicine, where professional selection focuses on intellectual abilities, emotional intelligence carries much more weight than IQ in determining who emerges as a leader."

So what are the basics of Emotional Intelligence? Validated research says they are:

• Knowing your feelings and employing them to make life decisions you can live with.

• The ability to manage your emotional life without being hijacked by it.

• Persistence in the face of setbacks while channeling your impulses in order to pursue your goals.

• Empathy - reading another's emotions without their having to tell you what they are feeling.

• Managing feelings in a relationship with skill and harmony ... for example, being able to express the unspoken pulse of another or a group.

All of these are essential competencies found in the high-achieving dentist, professional. Over the next several months, we'll explore the powerful concepts of E.I. in our patient and team interactions, plus how to grow your E.Q. so that you and your team can join the stars of our profession.

To dig deeper into this subject in general, I highly recommend the work of Daniel Goleman, Ph.D... Working With Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership. For its application in dental practice, please contact us for more information. Thank you.