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As clinicians and customer service representatives, obviously we’re required to interact with patients, but there’s a fine line between being professional and knowing when you’ve shared a little too much about your personal life. While we certainly don’t want to appear cold and indifferent, getting too involved personally with a patient can have an adverse reaction. Also, some patients would rather not engage during an appointment unless it’s related to their oral health.

Building rapport with patients is extremely important, and we’re expected to be comforting, informative, and professional. However, chatting the entire appointment about irrelevant and personal matters can cause some patients to become annoyed and stressed. Therefore, acquiring the skill of reading people is very important and will prevent awkwardness and embarrassment. It’s not too difficult to pick up on a patient’s demeanor and adjust your communication skills if you pay close attention to their cues and body language.

When a patient comes into the operatory, it’s their time, and they need your undivided attention. They may have issues they want to discuss, or they may not want to talk at all. Patients can change their demeanor from one visit to the next, and everyone has a bad day. If you sense the patient is annoyed, remain silent and let them initiate any interaction. However, if there’s a dental issue at hand, informing the patient is important. You don’t have to overdo it, but make sure they’re aware of any issue(s) you find.

Another important point is to make sure your conversation is appropriate. Some topics such as religion and politics are off-limits. Also, keep the conversation focused on the patient. While you want them to get to know you, they may not want to hear all about your life. Some people will want to know everything about you but use discretion. Vacations, children, career, grandchildren, and pets are usually a safe subject. With a little practice and patience, you’ll become a pro at knowing when to share and when to watch your mouth.