My DA and Me

This week, as often happens, my nutritional and coaching studies overlapped with my dental life.  My studies turned to providing positive feedback and I was reminded of an excellent presentation I attended back in 2016.  It was titled ‘My DA and Me’ It was refreshing to see on the agenda of The Lumino The Dentists Clinicians Conference.  My only disappointment was that it hadn’t been compulsory attendance.  I kept hold of my notes and often ponder on how we can better look after our dental assistants (DAs).

I’m sure you don’t need reminding that there’s a good chance you spend more time with your DA than most of your family members.  Your day can be made or broken by the reciprocal relationship you share with your DA.  Like any relationship it should be based on mutual trust and respect.  I’d like to think we’re all good dentists to work with, that we’re not the instrument throwers, the tray slammers, the shovers, the blame allocators, the shouters, the ignorers.  However, we know they’re out there; our nurses tell us about them, they’re more than dental urban myth but they’re either unaware of how they’re perceived or just enjoy it, who could say?

The presentation I went to looked at how often we praise versus how often we correct our DA, and focused on developing the best working relationships we can with our DAs. It was from a group called The Learning Wave, the presenter discussed their PDF model (praise, development, feedback). I’m just going to look at praise here. The research that was quoted was from studies that looked at general workforce employer/ employee relationships and marriages. Nothing specific to dentistry.

The main take home from these studies was that there’s a golden complement ratio for successful relationships both work and marriages. 5:1. Five complements to one criticism/correction.  That the most effective person to receive praise from is your immediate manager, that if they feel inadequately recognised staff are more likely to leave.

An actual ratio was a surprise to me, if I think reflect on my working days, I’m not sure I hit 5:1 all the time.   Conversely, for divorced couples the ratio was 0.7:1, a medium performing team 1.9:1, a poorly performing team 0.36:1. To pose the same question from a different angle, how many criticisms or corrections do you make a day on average, do you think you make 5 times as many complements?  It takes practice, people aren’t as comfortable with praising as they should be and it needs doing right to be effective.

It starts with setting the tone for a positive culture at work, lead from the front and if you have a morning meeting, ‘huddle’, debrief etc, make it positive, complement staff on stuff from the day before.  Don’t set the bar too high for complements, it doesn’t have to be something epic just acknowledging something that helped you out. How they interacted with that nervous patient, how they rolled with the punches when a routine extraction turned to custard etc.  And please, please, please don’t make it about the money, your nurse doesn’t care how much your practice brought in yesterday, infact it just leaves them looking at their wages and thinking are we all just numbers.  Make them feel more not less.

Know your staff, know what they struggle with or find uncomfortable and make sure you acknowledge their performance in these areas.  They may struggle when you run late, they may struggle setting up for or nursing for certain procedures, they may hate helping out on reception.  So acknowledge and praise them in these situations rather than jumping in with corrections.  And don’t fall for the mistake that the absence of criticism is the same as praise and positivity.

Finding ease with the giving and receiving of complements doesn’t come naturally at all to some of us.  It depends on our culture, our parents and us.  Practice makes perfect, regular compliments will make them less awkward to give, practice receiving complements well and not brushing them off.  It will come.

Finally mentor your young dentists, I don’t remember much on staff management and relationships at dental school, infact for most of the time we were all flying solo and had no DA.  But I do remember my first few bosses advice, always introduce your nurse to your patient, help them where you can if you run late and always thank and acknowledge them before you leave.  Quite simple guidelines and common courtesy really but effective.  It’s just common decency really, treat them like you would a niece, an aunt, a younger sister (or male equivalents if you have a male nurse) If all of this sounds a bit touchy feely for you stick to the number one rule of the Courtney household: above all, don’t be a dick!

Happy DA….. Happy days!

Reference: My DA and Me, The Learning Wave 2016.