Humility and Relationships




In Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein discussed some pretty risky but rewarding behavior which, I think, is critical to a relationship driven practice and life.

You see, many of us were taught that the hierarchical, authoritarian model was the way to live and work.

At home, I’m the father. The bread winner. The provider of all the tools needed for success. My family simply needs to listen to me and everything will be right.


In the office, I’m the practice owner. I’m the boss. I’m the doctor. I’m risking it all for my success. I know how to fix your problem. Therefore, team members (read employees) and patients need to do nothing more than listen to me.




If my wife and my now grown kids heard me say this with any degree of seriousness, they would – at best-  laugh at me.


In the office, if my team heard me in the same way, they would either roll their eyes or look for another job. And if my patients heard me say this, followed by an authoritarian case presentation, their response would be the classic “Well, I’ll think about it” And I’d likely never see them again.


And if I were serious about those statements, there would be far less liquor in my house and even less hair on my head


Life is about relationships built on respect, trust, and love. Life is about listening and understanding. Life is about the open and safe exchange of ideas. Life is about humble inquiry. And, although dentistry used to be about the all-knowing doctor providing remedies to the subservient patient, our profession has become more about the same principles of humble inquiry. That, my friends, is a change for the better.


One of the challenges to maintaining a rewarding practice is creating a safe environment for the exchange of critical personal information. Within the limits of what is legal, if we engage our teams in some exchanges of personal information, we deepen those relationships and build loyalty, productivity, and, I dare say, a bit of love into our workplace. If we know our likes and dislikes, our hopes and fears, our challenges and triumphs, we bond so much better.


And if we somehow unlock the door to our patients’ minds and understand who they are, we can take the role of doctor to once unattainable levels. If we truly know the people we serve and act on a mission of altruism, we can use our relationship skills to motivate them to become as healthy as they want to be.


So how do we do all this?


Let’s understand what Schein calls Here and Now Humility


We went to college and dental school. We take God-knows-how-many hours of Continuing Education in the areas of our choosing. Indeed, we may well be more educated than our teams and our patients. We may have a clear and unmistakable vision for our practices and for our patients’ health. But we need our team to support and help us on our mission. They know more about some things than we do. They will see things that we occasionally cannot see. We need to be humble enough to create a safe environment for them to (get ready for this) point out the things we do not see or do not know.

And we certainly know more about occlusion, caries, periodontal disease, health, wellness, than those we serve. But our services are, for he most part, elective. There are so many ways to get a person to health. And each person has his or her own paradigm of what health, comfort, function, and esthetics are. Each person has his or her own intrinsic motivators and there are dozens of dentists they can choose if they don’t like our message or do not feel connected to us.


Here’s a suggestion for you: ask a team member how they’re doing. Then listen generously without interrupting. Listen carefully and follow up with another open- ended question about what they discussed. Allow them to open up a bit. Be supportive if they express some frustration. Be a cheerleader if they talk about something great. Perhaps then, or perhaps on another occasion, talk about something important to you. Let them get to know your human side. Allow them to see your vulnerability. Make it safe for them (within legal limits, of course), to be vulnerable, as well. It will take your relationships to much higher levels.


And how about using those same principles in your pre-clinical interviews? If you’re not doing pre clinical interviews, try doing one with a new or existing patient. Once you get good at it, you’ll love it. Dr Pankey taught us to never treat a stranger. It makes so much sense to earn trust and learn how to motivate each individual who joins your team or asks you for help.


Humility is the key to riches in every sense. Try it!


Dr. Stern

804 W. Park Ave.
Ocean, NJ 07712
(732) 493-8030

Better, Richer, Stronger - Dr. Alan G. Stern / The Life Coach for Dentists
804 West Park Ave. Ocean, NJ 07712 / (732) 493-8030

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