Are You a Good Listener? 6 Ways to Really Hear Your Patients

Have you ever been in a conversation and felt that you weren’t being heard? What a frustrating feeling! Now, imagine how a patient would feel if they experienced this during an appointment. If a patient expresses her oral health concerns but doesn’t feel you care to fully understand them, it creates a situation with no winner.

Providing the best possible care starts with being the best possible listener. Research shows that effectively listening increases trust, improves relationships, and reduces conflict. When your patients trust you to understand what matters to them, they’ll trust you with their dental care.

If you’re struggling to really listen to your patients, we ~hear~ you! Use the following 6 tips to master the art of listening.


1. Intentionally Listen to What Your Patient is Saying

Effective listening begins with taking a serious interest in what your patients think, want, and say. Standard replies do not strengthen patient relationships. If you can stop and truly listen to what your patients are saying, you will be able to build stronger relationships, properly address concerns, and provide the best care. Always take time to answer your patient’s questions and ask follow-up questions based on what your patient is telling you. Here’s an example to put this into perspective:

Poor Listening Skills Interaction

Patient: “My smile is feeling a bit dull lately.”

You: “Sorry to hear that, we’ll get that smile sparkling in no time.”

Although this is a positive sentiment, did you really take the time to fully understand why the patient is feeling this way, and what aspect of their smile they feel is dull?

Good Listening Skills Interaction

Patient: “My smile is feeling a bit dull lately.”

You: “What don’t you like about your smile? Is there anything else I can be doing to help you feel better about your smile? If you could change anything about your smile, what would it be?”

If you find that your responses tend to mirror the “poor skills” example, we’ve got lots more tips and takeaways to come.


2. Observe Your Patient’s Facial Expressions and Posture

Facial expressions and posture can be tell-tale signs of agitation and confusion. Are your patient’s hands clenched together, indicating possible anxiety? Did their eyes widen when you were explaining a procedure to them, indicating they may be scared or surprised? Have they been crossing their arms over their chest the entire appointment, indicating that they may be cold? Watch for these signs to help make your patients feel as comfortable as possible.

Also keep in mind that YOUR posture can effect listening (and your health). Stay engaged and interested by sitting up straight and leaning slightly forward when your patient is speaking.


3. Actively Absorb What They are Saying

listening and responding process graphIt’s one thing to sit and make eye contact with the person speaking to you, but are you absorbing what they are telling you? Anyone can sit quietly, nod, and say “mhmm” a few times. This kind of response doesn’t exactly send the message that you care. To show respect and concern, you need to actively absorb and interpret what the person is saying so you can craft a better, more personalized response.

Here are some signals you can use to assess whether you’re practicing active or passive listening behaviors:

Active Listening Behaviors Passive Listening Behaviors
Focusing on the moment Lacking focus and awareness of the interaction
Being aware of interactions as they occur Expending little effort in the communication process
Resisting distractions in the communication situation Becoming easily distracted


4. Keep an Open Mind

Great listeners know that every conversation they have puts them one step closer to understanding the people they communicate with. If you’re already certain that you know what’s going on in someone’s head, then your brain is primed to accept only information that agrees with your preconceived notions. As a dental team, you should aspire to be compassionate to all your patients and welcome them to your practice with open arms and minds!

Open-minded listening requires empathy and a suspension of judgement on the part of the listener. offers the following suggestions for putting open-minded listening into practice:

  1. Allow yourself to be receptive to/influenced by what you hear
  2. Suspend judgement by being aware of your preconceived notions
  3. Listen to seek understanding, rather than to determine whether the speaker is right or wrong
  4. Listen with empathy to try to better understand where the speaker is coming from, emotionally and conceptually
  5. Leave ego at the door, and instead strive to find common ground with the speaker


5. Respond Appropriately

Part of active listening is being able to respond appropriately. The best responses usually involve some form of probing, reflecting, and advising. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what your patient is saying, wait until they pause, and ask follow-up questions. Just make sure your hands are out of the patient’s mouth first! ?

Other appropriate responses include reflecting the speakers feelings (“What a terrible ordeal for you!” or “You must be thrilled!”), occasionally paraphrasing the content of the message, and non-verbal cues including nodding and facial expressions. These behaviors will not only validate your patient’s feelings and thoughts, but show that you are fully engaged in the conversation.


6. Always Keep an Open Heart

One of the most effective listening tools is to empathize with the person you’re speaking with. We often see the world through the lens of our own experiences and beliefs. When you develop empathy, you can understand a situation from someone else’s point of view. Try to develop a sense of empathy and concern for your patients. Validate their perspective by acknowledging their opinion. Whether or not you’re able to fully relate, your compassion won’t go unnoticed.

Follow these six listening rules and you will build stronger relationships with patients, as well as family and friends. Being a good listener will open doors to new business and increase the satisfaction of existing patients.

So next time you go to work, put on your scrubs and gloves, and don’t forget your active listening ears! What tips do you have for becoming a better listener? Please share in the comments below.

One thought on “Are You a Good Listener? 6 Ways to Really Hear Your Patients

  1. This is a vital article. In fact over a very long time I have observed that the more the patient talks and the less the dentist does, the higher the case acceptance. The dentist though must ask questions that illicit a real response; not just a “yes” or “no” or a nod of the head.

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