It was a beautiful crisp spring evening and I was sitting alone relaxing on a bench in front of the Château Frontinac high above the St. Lawrence Seaway in Quebec City. I truly enjoy this beautiful city and the majestic view up the St. Lawrence is one of my favorites. When you are there, you are in a city that was once a fortress of safety for French settlers three hundred years ago. Towering stonewalls, bunkers and batteries of powerful black cannons surround a maze of old buildings lined along narrow cobble stone streets. This city was the home of battles that eventually shaped North America. In my solitude, my mind wondered back in time and I began to listen with my imagination to what these battles would have been like. I could hear the large steel cannons firing shots down on the great tall masted battle ships below as they protected the scared settlers living within these sacred walls from the invading armies sailing up the inlet from the Atlantic.
Its funny how are minds will allow us to hear such imaginary sounds when we truly listen, but yet, so many of us have trouble just listening and hearing what is around us in normal day to day life. Somewhere along our skill development path, many of us lose the gift of listening. And the reality is, in order to be successful at what we are trying to accomplish, we have to relearn and retain this skill. I have been working hard at this since Mary Osborne came to C4 and helped me realize how terrible I was at listening. To complicate matters, the person I listened to the least, was myself.
Over a five-year period I worked very hard to improve my dental skills and judgment to develop a comprehensive care practice. I had gone through the paradigm shift of believing what occlusion meant to successful dentistry and how it made treatment easier. The need for a large practice had gone to the wayside, since we are now doing better dentistry on fewer patients and it was those asking for help. Then why, did it always seem like a battle to keep things under control? Part of the answer came from Mark Peters, who was also one of my C4 instructors. He told me to listen to my temperament. In other words, what was Ken Myers telling himself what he wanted out of his practice and life? And now, since I have begun to listen to my heart muscle and stomach lining, the control of the practice continues to improve. However, there is a lot more to it than just listening to yourself.
I have also focused my attention on listening better to my staff. We may complain that they seem to whine about trivial things, but usually they have a broader meaning behind their words. And when I have taken the time to listen and talk to them, they frequently open up to me about issues at home and not the office at all. You may be surprised to hear this, but your staff’s respect and need of you often extends beyond the office walls. This is where part your leadership is derived from listening and not speaking.
Then there was Fred, who taught me a huge lesson on the gift of listening to our patients. Fred came to my office by referral because he did not see eye to eye with his previous dentist. And I think I know who was not listening to whom. Fred presented for our new patient evaluation, and I asked the simple question; “What can I do to be the best dentist I can be for you?” He then proceeded to tell me about his new physician who listened to him and cared, his family who never listened to him, and a plethora of other issues for the next 40 minutes. I hardly said a word. When we started to talk about his dental health, I just sat there and nodded in agreement, because he had already been educated about his dental problems. When Fred was finished, he knew I had listened to every word, answered every concern, and he scheduled the initial phase of a full mouth rehabilitation. And, all I did was listen. I truly believe that many of the patients I never brought above the line were because I too, was probably not listening to their wants and needs.
The gift of listening extends well beyond the life of a dental practice. I would say that many of our family disagreements are caused by one or both spouses not listening to what the other has to say. Or, we may not explain ourselves in a manner that makes it possible to listen to each other. As parents, we so often say to our children; “just a minute” or “will you just listen to me; I’m busy right now.” When in reality we need to stop, take time to sit down and listen to what they have to say. If we don’t start listening to them at a young age, it will teach them not to say what is on their mind, and it will teach them the same bad habits on not listening that we have developed. Children need our listening skills equally as much as they need our verbal skills. Too often they don’t have anybody to listen to them so they can develop self worth which they need as they grow and mature.
The art of listening is not a new concept that has arrived with the millennium. However, as the world ever becomes faster paced, its importance to our success in life may be increasing. L.D. Pankey used the word “know”, to try to express this same thought process. “Know yourself and know your patient” were part of his application of the cross to dentistry. In reality, he was simply stating, listen to yourself and listen to your patient. This may seem like a small task to accomplish, but it is a very important key to our successful journey because it will unlock doors around you that you never knew were even there. Behind these doors may be some of the answers to the questions and frustrations we continue to encounter. So, listen friends and you may hear…
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