Podcast: David Wolf on the power of communication

Hello and welcome to Ascent Dental Radio. A program dedicated to the balance between the clinical aspect of health care and the business of health care. And now here is your host, Dr. Kevin Coughlin.

Kevin: Good afternoon. You’re listening to Dr. Kevin Coughlin and Ascent Dental Radio. Today, I have another super guest for the next 20 minutes for another amazing podcast. Ascent Dental Solutions is focused on helping the dental community market themselves, improve patient relations and just improve their bottom line.

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As important, if not more important today, we’re dealing with communication issues which to me, are the fundamentals of success in any business, but in particular, my area of expertise: dentistry.

Today’s guest is Mr. David Wolf. He’s been creative director and producer of content for radio, TV, film, podcast, audio books and multimedia. His clients are Amblin, Universal, Disney, Discovery Channel, South West Airlines, children’s medical centers, Kidney Care, Miller Brewing, Budget Rent a Car, Frito-Lay, Pepsi, McDonalds, Texaco and the list goes on and on.

You may be asking yourself, why would the dental profession be interested in having an expert like David speak? I can only tell you with 35 years of practicing dentistry, owning 14 dental offices, 160 employees that the single most significant thing that I’ve seen over the years is the ability to communicate with your team members and your patients.

And without any further ado, David’s going to introduce himself and tell us what he’s seen over his number of years in this field and how he can, perhaps, improve our ability to communicate with team members and patients.

David, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to speak to our audience today.

David: You are most welcome, Kevin. Thank you.

Kevin: Give us a little bit of background about what you’ve sensed and what you see as far as communication in health care, but in dentistry in particular.

David: That’s a fascinating subject because it’s infused by years of producing talent, singers, speakers, musicians in the context of pure communication which is music and audio for advertising and communications and training films so my perspective is somewhat skewed to the entertainment preparation or production side of the business.

As an observer of those who I’ve encountered in the medical profession and also in dentistry, and we were talking offline about this is as well, I think that because of the nature of the work and the nature of the type of minds that enter those fields, I think from a personality perspective they tend to be very scientific.

And I would check this with you to see if you agree, I know you’ve been in the industry for more than 35 years. Would you agree that most of the folks, it seems to me, tend to be more, let’s call them introverted. They’re really measured by their grasp of technology and emerging technology in dentistry. And then with that emersement, they are then almost tasked to come up for air and talk to mere mortals as they’re sitting in the chair ready for a procedure. Do I have this right?

Kevin: I think you hit the nail right on the head. We’re all somewhat prone to these idiosyncrasies. We focus on the minutia. We focus on infinitesimally small areas of the human anatomy and many times we lose sight of the actual patient. We’re not actually listening to what they’re telling us or what they actually want.

And I think in today’s competitive market in medicine, in dentistry, the ability to be able to connect, what I call BLT; you want your team and your patients to believe in you, you want them to like you and you want them to trust you. And in order to accomplish that task, there are certain areas of expertise that you bring to the table that maybe you can help our listeners learn from your teaching standpoint.

David: Absolutely, and I appreciate that. You hit it on the head with BLT because at the end of the day, what I’ve learned, if I’ve learned anything in my 30 or so years in the communication space, is that for the most part we’re emotional beings. And the communications and this connection that we make, the belief, the like and T was trust, forming that foundation in a relationship, it’s all about emotion.

So how do we communicate emotion in a world that is somewhat technical and there is sometimes a clock running and there is a procedure to be done and there is a lot of preparation?

It almost, from my perspective, might require that the practitioner almost compartmentalize a bit, and as I said earlier, come up for air and understand that okay, now I’m going to speak to this patient in emotional terms. I’m going to use my voice in ways, almost the tone — one of the things I do is I coach people around the use of their voice. I call this program The Power of Voice.

There are some fascinating things about the voice that despite the fact that we use it for 80 percent of everything we do, no matter what business we’re in or vocation or avocation we’re in, we rarely think about it. We just assume, oh, this is my voice, this is what I’ve been given and born with and I’ll just use it however I can use it. But very few people really think or exam or even practice simple aspects of their vocal mechanism. And I think some of this could apply to the practitioners that are listening here to better understand how their voice affects the emotions of the patient in the chair.

Kevin: I would tell you that some of the things that I’ve seen is in my particular organization, we see over 938 new patients a month. And over and over again I hear the same thing; how come no one ever explained this before? How come no one ever told me this before? And when you’re talking about the inflections in the tones, in your voice, I would tell you that over and over again I hear the same thing and that is, “I didn’t notice any empathy. The practitioner explained the A, the B and the C, but there was no inflection, no empathy, no real concern. It was a matter of fact. They need A, they need B, they need C and the cost is D.”

I think many times we as clinicians miss that connection that people, as you mentioned, they want that emotion. They want to know that you care. They assume that you already know how to do the A, the B and the C, that you’re clinically astute, but what they really want to pay for, what they really want is you to connect with them emotionally and understand why they want what they want and how come they need what they need.

And that’s been my 35 years of experience and sometimes, myself included in this, we miss that because we’re on the clock or because we’ve done it so many times.

Are there specific tips or training drills that you can suggest for the whole health care? But I believe it applies to anyone who deals with people.

David: I think you’re right. I’m glad you asked because I have a lot of notes ready for us today around some specifics. We’ve been kind of nibbling at the edge of this.

We’ve established that it’s an emotional connection we need to make, but how do you do that with your voice in the context of a practice? And by the way, I would say also Dr. Coughlin, that this applies to speaking too in public, it even applies to guys like you and I that do podcasts and Doug that are on mic technique. It really applies to a lot. And I’m a student of this stuff. I’m working on it all the time even though I help others accomplish it.

So here it goes. I have a list of things I like to call the Elements of Voice and that includes breathing and tone, melody and pitch modulation, word formation, rhythm, pacing, phrasing. And then this thing we call filler words which may not as much relate to this emotional content that we’re talking about with respect to empathy, some of these traits or some of these elements of voice absolutely do inform the emotional content of our voice.

If I may, maybe I’ll demonstrate a few of these things. What’s amazing and again, I’m a student of this as well, as you pointed out here after even 35 years we’re always students, so few of us have really thought about how we breathe. Unless you’ve played trombone or some wind instrument in a band when you were in grammar school or high school, no one ever taught us that we really need to breathe from our abdomens.

And almost think of the abdomen as a balloon and the first step in breathing is not the inhale, but the exhale. So what we’re doing is we’re clearing [exhales], we’re exhaling out as much as we can — there will always be some air in our lungs because that’s what is required to keep them inflated — but to clear the lungs out to a comfortable level and then allow them organically or naturally to re-inflate.

What I’ve been practicing lately as I’ve got more and more into studying this is putting my hand sort of right around my navel and really feeling the expansion of my abdomen in a way that may feel a little silly. And many of us are weight conscious so if you’ve got a little belly you’re like, “I’ve been taught and conditioned socially to hold in my stomach all the time.” So for me that was a little bit of a I work on my weight, but push the stomach out as you exhale and really pull it in so it’s lower than your chest.

What happens when we, so much of us project or create the stream of air that our vocal folds use to create sound, we tend to focus in our neck area and in our chest area. And so where this folds into what we’re talking about with empathy is that if there’s enough sufficient breathe to support the stream of air as you talk to a patient or as you’re talking to someone in public, I believe that that support that you’re providing, your vocal tone, will feel more soothing to the recipient. So that’s just one example of breathing.

Kevin: I could tell you David also another thing that I saw is the physical presence of a dentist or any health care provider in their cubicle or operatory. I’ve been a student, not as astute as yourself, but I videotape a lot of the presentations that occur in a medical setting. And one of the things that I noticed is often the practitioner is standing and the patient is sitting and immediately you’re creating a dominance. I strongly recommend that you take a look at not just the tone and the breathing, but the physical space that you’re in and try not to impinge by being too close or too far away.

I talk to my students, my staff, my team members and say, “Try to be eye-to-eye contact. Try to stay within an arm’s length or three or four feet from the individual and talk eye-to-eye rather than looking down or looking up at them.” Would you agree with some of those comments?

David: Absolutely. We can’t ignore the fact that communication is multidimensional. And so in a room with a patient, or with anyone for that matter, a very high degree of adaptivity to what they’re comfortable with is called for here. And so in a world that is very procedurally driven, which is the world most of you live in, I think, in the medical space, you almost have to step out of that and suddenly become highly adaptive.

Now, I may have that wrong. It may be that even though you’re dealing with known anatomy, you go into a mouth or a cavity or a gum periodontal situation, you may have a whole lot of adaptiveness that’s required in order to treat. I may have misspoken on this, but these levels of sensitivity about hierarchy and body language are all a part of the communications process.

Of course, I’m focusing on the voice, which is only one component. The visual, yes. Bottom line is I absolutely agree with that premise. It’s a total communications process.

Kevin: David, are there actual courses out there that you teach that can give more instrumental techniques? Is there ways that people can touch base with you to learn some of these tactics that really, I hate to say, we try to sell to people? But in the world that I live in, we’re all selling something and in my opinion, selling is good providing it’s done ethically and honestly. I’ve never looked at selling as bad. I think I’m selling myself on this podcast.

You’re selling your techniques to people. But so long as they’re done with the idea of providing value and a service and to improve the way we connect with people, I look that as something very good and I appreciate the expertise. How do they get in touch with you? How do they reach out to learn more about these techniques to improve their accepting the patient and the patient accepting them?

David: Thank you very much. I appreciate that, Dr. Coughlin. By the way, I listen to your podcast regularly and I know that really you’re sharing great and valuable information that you believe in. That’s what I’m trying to get to there. So thank you for including me in the fold there. The way folks can get a hold of me and learn more about this program I call The Power of Voice is they can reach me at www.podcastandradio.com.

There is a contact me area or page on that site. There is also a little bit of an explanation about The Power of Voice. I do coaching. I’m developing a course that will be ultimately sold online as well and a lot of exciting developments around all of this is as an adjunct to my background. So thank you for inviting me in.

Kevin: No David, thank you. For our listeners here, sometimes I like to digress from the technical aspects because I think sometimes more important than the technical aspects of health care is the people aspects of health care. And I think we take with a grain of salt what we should probably spend more time on. And that’s patients come to us to listen to explanations, options, the risk, the benefits and the alternatives.

And unfortunately, if we’re going to provide the highest level of care and service, the ability to communicate, the ability to connect and the techniques to make us better at it are many times completely overlooked in the health and medical profession. And bringing experts like David wolf and his programs to our listeners, I think, is a great boon to our profession and to our patients.

David, with your expertise in the creative director and producer, we need people like you in our health care profession to make us connect better and more efficiently with our patients and I can’t thank you enough. Please, don’t hesitate to reach out and get to David at smallbizamerica@gmail.com.

You’ve been listening to Dr. Kevin Coughlin, Ascent Dental Solutions, where the focus is on knowledge, consultation, training and development. And in closing, my great thanks to Mr. Doug Foresta, Stand Out and Be Heard. Without his expertise, this podcast would not take place. Thanks again and I look forward to speaking to everyone soon.