Emotional Intelligence: a breakthrough program

Your drill is not enough. Your X-ray machine, equilibrator and other dental tools are not enough. Necessary - just not enough. To succeed as a dentist you also must have the tools needed to constructively influence people - patients, staff, even yourself.

To illustrate, consider this passage from an article Drs. Irwin Becker, Rich Green and I wrote for Dentistry Today (October, 2003):

A middle-aged man peers into the mirror. His mouth looks and feels wrong. His appearance is declining and chewing is becoming difficult. He calls a local dentist to learn what can be done.

 How will the dental office respond to his call? What will he experience when he arrives? How will his dental health and sophistication be assessed? What options will be presented? What will be his role in decision making? To what extent will he be asked to take responsibility for the process? How will the staff and dentist act toward him? What will it feel like to be a patient in this office? The answer to each question will have a profound impact on treatment acceptance and outcome.

As a dentist, assume you want to influence this man towards the best dental health he can achieve. Influencing people is not easy. You may need to influence him to change a number of behaviors, including:

  • Adopt certain self care habits, such as brushing and flossing.

  • Accept certain dental procedures that, in and of themselves, are not very appealing - only their results are appealing.

  • Psychologically take responsibility for his dental health rather than passively depending upon the dentist, whereas the larger healthcare system in our country encourages dependency.

  •  Learn enough about his oral situation to make informed choices.

  • Spend money on dental health that may have been targeted for other areas.

This article reported on a landmark study that the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education and I conducted on emotional intelligence (EQ) and dentist success. We learned that certain emotional skills are extremely important factors in the successful implementation of the relationship-intensive model of treatment that the Institute teaches.

Whether you aspire to a Pankey style practice or not, you still must influence people in order to have the kind of practice you want. Patients must agree to treatment, keep appointments, pay for services, and, hopefully, do their part in keeping their mouths healthy. Staff must work together, treat patients in such a manner that patients feel as comfortable as possible coming to your office, and follow your directions to make the practice what you want it to be.

Of course, you cannot control anyone else's behavior. However, you can influence their behavior. Whether people accept your influence or not depends partly on them and partly on how skillfully you offer it. That's where EQ comes in.

Emotion, yours and theirs, sets the stage for influence. EQ is the set of skills that people can use to intelligently manage their emotions and their emotional interactions with others. Interactions that patients have with their dentists have important emotional components. Interactions that team members have with each other and with their boss also have important emotional components. When you know how to use EQ skills effectively, you are more able to influence (not manipulate) people for everyone's benefit.

Research over the past two decades, like the Pankey EQ study, has demonstrated that people with higher EQ have more career success. Such research has been done in high profile psychological laboratories, such as Yale University, as well as in the real world such as at companies like American Express and Met Life.

Good News: EQ skills can be learned. Everyone can improve their skills in managing their own emotions and their interactions with others.

  • Imagine that you would like to increase your ability to encourage patients to take all of the steps needed for lasting dental health. You can.

  • Or imagine that you want to be more effective leading your team towards your vision for your practice. You can.

  • Finally, imagine that you want to be more able to influence yourself towards better stress management, or greater happiness, or increased resilience in the face of the inevitable setbacks that life provides. You can.

Over the past four years I have developed a complete EQ assessment and development program. My thirty years of experience as a psychologist has helped me to understand principles of lasting behavior change. I have inculcated these principles into the EQ development process. A number of dentists who participated in the Pankey EQ study have gone through this program. They report greater success in their practice, greater team cohesion, and, as a side benefit, growth in their personal relationships.

The Program, which is called The EQ Leader Program, was published by Multi-Health Systems (MHS) in 2005. MHS is the leading publisher of EQ assessment instruments in the world, including the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), which was used in the Pankey EQ study. Publication of the program means that consultants around the world, who become trained in the methodology, will be able to provide the program.

The program consists of five sequential steps. Participants can do as many or few of the steps as they choose, i.e., they can stop whenever they like:

  • EQ Skill Assessment: The assessment has two parts. (1) The participant takes the EQI, the only test of EQ adequately demonstrated by research to accurately measure the skills of EQ. (2) The participant is interviewed about relevant issues so that the report of their test results can be tailored to the goals and interests of the participant. For example, the interview covers the participant's goals for his or her practice, ways in which they would like to improve their practice, and specific practice problems that they would like to solve.

  • Assessment Feedback: The participant receives a written report detailing EQ strengths and weaknesses as well as the implications for, perhaps, increasing patient compliance or team cooperation, if those are issues of interest. Further, a private, personal feedback session occurs in which the participant and consultant review the findings, ensure accurate understanding and discuss next steps. We identify which EQ skills should be strengthened in order to help achieve the participant's goals.

  • Exercises: The EQI measures 15 separate EQ skills. As a part of this program, a different menu of exercises has been developed for each EQ skill. Participants receive all relevant exercises for their use. For example, if someone finds that their assertiveness skills are under-developed, and there is reason to believe that increasing this skill will help them to reach their goals, there are 12 exercises that may be helpful.

  • Developmental Planning: Lasting behavior change is complex to achieve. The fact that so many people fail earnest attempts to diet, quit smoking, or establish consistent flossing testifies to that fact. In our program, we use a ten-step process to create a plan tailored to the needs and interests of the participant. Such tailoring greatly increases the chances of ultimate success. The ten steps include the establishment of clear goals (easier to achieve than vague goals), identifies resources that the person can use to reach those goals, and considers how to overcome known barriers. Because different people learn differently, we identify the learning processes that work best for that individual.

  • Coaching: Most people do best in building EQ skills when they have a coach who can guide them through the process. The coach helps them to see opportunities and overcome unexpected barriers.

Next Step: If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact me. We can evaluate together whether this program fits your interests and needs.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D. is a psychologist who provides coaching and consultation to dentists and their staffs. He has been a guest lecturer at the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education and writes frequently for Dentistry Today. He can be reached at dana.ackley@eqleader.net , or 540-774-1927, or EQ Leader, Inc., 2840 Electric Rd, Suite 208, Roanoke, Virginia 24018.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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