Have you watched the evening news lately? It’s easy to feel depressed constantly seeing news about murder, the coronavirus on the rise, and the rioting and social unrest throughout our country. On top of all this darkness, our politicians are bashing one another daily with negative tweets and political ads. Unfortunately, this bombardment of bad news has left many people feeling lonely, tired, stressed, and without hope. Why is it that on the evening news the heart-warming stories about someone helping out their community, or another person overcoming a personal challenge, are shown only during the last 60 seconds of the evening broadcast? The truth is that we live in a negative world; and if we’re not careful, we can get sucked into this black vortex of doom and gloom. To combat this, I propose that we all shut off the Evening News and watch Animal Planet instead. I say that kiddingly, although that might be a good idea. More practically, I suggest that we all go on a campaign to use positive words of gratitude and encouragement, to build people up rather than tear them down, to make our world a better place. Or how about carefully listening to someone rather than responding.

About 15 years ago, in my dental practice, I noticed that my entire team, including me, was focusing and obsessing over problems. Whether it was problems with patients or problems with what someone else said or did, we all seemed to “turn towards the negative.” Blaming and complaining far outweighed any praising and affirming. As a result, practicing dentistry became a chore for me rather than a joy. I’d reached a point where I said, “enough is enough!” At an office staff meeting, which we held once a week, I came up with a mandate and said, “from this day forward, we are going to use more positive words and that the use of the phrase ‘no problem’ is now banned!” They all looked at me like “What? Are you crazy?” I explained that I felt that our office had become a “caldron of negativity.” In addition, I told them that I needed to see each of them encourage one another more in order to help make our office become a happier place for our often fear-filled patients. I proposed that we all begin by simply using positive language. I asked each of them to embrace the idea even though I had no idea if it would work. We all agreed to try it out for a few months. During this “experiment,” we also made a pact to hold each other accountable through the process. In reality, we made it fun, we made a game out of it and it worked! In a few months, we transformed our office into a practice that was once again energized, fun, and more productive. Does this sound too good to be true? Here are a few things you can do to energize your team and your practice.

Start by making a chart with two columns: one for positive phrases, the other for negative ones. Next, keep a tally of both the negative words or phrases like “no worries” or “not an issue” and at the same time, keep track of the positive phrases like “you’re welcome or my pleasure.” In the respective columns, write down the phrase you heard, along with the name of the person who said it. Next, assign two (2) points to each positive phrase and a minus one (-1) to the negative phrases. At the end of the month, tally the scores. Once tallied, the person with the highest score wins a prize like a gift certificate for a massage or a manicure. This exercise is a lot and fun and a great way to engage and energize your team.

In my dental practice, as we more routinely used phrases like, “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure,” we noticed that we started to feel better about ourselves, about each other, and that we were all working better together. Also, we noticed that our patients were saying things like, “There’s a lot of laughter going on around here. This dental office sure is a happy place.” One of my favorite comments was, “You guys all seem to get along. What’s your secret?” I responded to him by saying, “We have a great team and we enjoy creating a wonderful experience for you at each and every visit.” Our patients’ comments confirmed for us that using positive language was, in fact, a great way to improve our practice and create a better experience for our patients.

Want to improve your practice culture? Here are a few steps you can take to get started:

First, be intentional and pay attention to the words you speak. Listen to your language and also to the words of those around you. Did you ever buy a new car and all of a sudden notice that a lot of other people were driving the same kind of car as yours? The truth. . . those cars were always there; you just hadn’t noticed them before. Your new self-awareness changed your perception of your world.

Secondly, every team member needs to be on board in order for effective change to occur. My dental team wholeheartedly embraced the idea and we went for it. As we began to listen to our spoken words, we were shocked at how often we said phrases like, “no problem” or “not an issue.” We were flabbergasted at our negative focus and how often we harped on each other’s mistakes. In just a few months, we were excited at how our practice culture had improved simply by changing our words. As we routinely used more positive phrases like “my pleasure” or you’re welcome,” our team spirit skyrocketed. We were happier and worked better together. As our morale increased, so did our practice productivity.

Presently, I am a member of Toastmasters, a club that helps individuals become better speakers and better leaders. In Toastmasters, after every speech you give, an “Evaluator” critiques you. When evaluating you and your speech, the “evaluator” first emphasizes what you did right and then offers you constructive comments or “pearls” to help you improve. The feedback is both objective and affirming. Additionally, at every meeting, a second club member is assigned the role of “The Ah-Counter.” This person helps you become a better speaker by keeping track of your “filler words” like “ah, you-know, um, and so.” At the end of the meeting, the “Ah-Counter” tells you, along with all the other members, how well you did with your use of the filler words. Again, I was surprised at first how often I said the word “um.” Today, I hardly use that word thanks to this wonderful training. In your dental practice, just like the “Ah- Counters” in Toastmaster’s, instead of counting the “ahs, you-knows, the ums, or the so’s,” count the negative words and phrases like “no problem” or “no worries.” You’ll be amazed and perhaps appalled at how often you use these phrases. Commit to improving your words, and remember that “what you measure, you will improve.” And like the Toastmasters evaluations, make sure you pay attention to what you and your team do “right!”

The last and most important step in using positive language is to encourage and support one another. Whatever you decide to do, make it fun, and celebrate your successes. Laugh at yourselves, enjoy the process, and be patient with one another. Remember that learning new habits while breaking old ones takes time.

In summary, remember that your words have power and that they do, in fact, influence your world. Remember, using positive words is like giving someone a bouquet of fresh flowers; using negative words is like giving them a bunch of wilted dandelions. I hope, after reading this article, you will choose to consistently give away “fresh flowers.” When you do, you will be amazed at how you, your team, and your practice will grow. Happy gardening everyone!

Dr. Robert Maguire DDS, MASCL is a dental speaker, coach, practice consultant, and DISC trainer, passionate about leadership and communication. If you’d like more information about Dr. Maguire and how he can help you and your team experience more fulfillment, more joy, and more financial success visit https://www.thefulfillment.coach/ or email him at: contact@thefulfillment.coach.

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