Communication and connection: Notes from Dr. Clarke Stevens

Communication and Connection

I had a long meeting with an orthodontic friend and co-worker recently – somebody I knew very well, who I’d known for years. We were talking about working with our patients – both the joys and the challenges – and it turned out to be a pretty difficult conversation. He was saying things I just couldn’t agree with, and I could tell he was having the same trouble with me. We both wanted to be understood, but it was as if we were speaking different languages, or at least different dialects. Like Prince Charles and Justin Bieber were talking about babysitting. We had to talk a lot to realize that, in fact, we agreed on almost everything … but we just didn’t ‘get’ each other!

It reminded me that good communication is absolutely important – with co-workers, employees, patients, friends and family, and even the general public. But it’s more than just important; it’s hard. Good communication takes thought, presence, and commitment. Here are just a few of things I strive for every time I communicate – verbally, in writing, fact-to-face, or long-distance:

  • Be sure you agree on definitions.  Part of the process is avoiding jargon, of course, but it’s also about avoiding assumptions – that is, assuming your partner in communication knows more (or less) than they do about your subject. It can be very subtle. The person you’re talking to may have a completely different notion of what “dental health” means or even how frequent  “brush frequently” really means. Those are the real challenges: identifying and agreeing on even common terms, common assumptions, that aren’t quite the same for everyone involved.
  • Push for resolution. It’s easy to get frustrated with a conversation that not going well, taking ‘too long,’ or simply complicated. But stick with it. Push yourself to make sure you’re really understood. Even if you don’t ‘convince’ your partner in communication to believe what you believe or to do what you want them to, make sure they truly understand what you’re trying to say.
  • Make it meaningful. If what you’re trying to convey isn’t important – even if it’s something simple like “I understand how you’re feeling,” or, “I appreciate you” – then maybe it’s not worth having a serious conversation at all. Communication is a challenge, yes, but it’s a gift as well. Try to infuse as much of what you say with real meaning … even the little things.
  • Tell a story. Notice how I started this little essay with a story? It’s amazing how powerful that can be. We all love stories – long and short, big and small. They give meaning (see above!) to our lives, and allow us to build connections, even with people whose lives are almost completely different than our own. Ask yourself: is there a story I know that can communicate my intent better than just talking, and certainly better than a speech or a lecture? If so … try telling a story. You’ll be amazed how often it works.

Begin today to really communicate with those around you. Give others your true feelings, and listen to what they have to offer as well. That way, everybody wins.

Thank you for being part of this adventure. Keep spreading the word about WildSmiles, and we’ll keep supplying the smiles that everyone deserves.

Be good, be kind, be happy … and thanks!