Practice Management: Doors of perception | Joanna Taylor

Joanna Taylor explains that learning how people perceive life in different ways can make a huge difference in the way you communicate with your patients

It’s interesting how, with some people, we seem to have an “instinctive” rapport. Maybe you just feel really comfortable with that person – somehow, you’re on the same wavelength or just see eye to eye with them. How much easier do you find it to communicate with that person? It truly is as though you are talking the same language.

What we perceive depends mainly on how we notice things. Imagine a tree surgeon, a birdwatcher, and an endodontist going for a walk together in the woods.


The tree surgeon will walk through the woods looking at the trees, wondering which branches could do with being removed, which trees are growing too closely together, and which tree is the most perfect specimen. The birdwatcher, on the other hand, will probably not be looking at the trees; he will be noticing the birds. What species can he see? What birdsong can he identify? Meanwhile, the endodontist will probably just be enjoying his walk; perhaps noticing the light and the colors around him, and the sounds and scents of the peaceful forest (and maybe looking to see where his dog has gone!).

All three have taken the same walk together in the same woods, but all three have completely different experiences of the event. They filtered out all the unwanted information and only noticed what was important to them. This, then, is their “model of the world” – their version of reality, and how the world appears to them. For the tree surgeon, the woods is full of trees; for the birdwatcher, it is mainly the birds that are important; and the endodontist only notices how much he and his dog are enjoying their walk.

Imagine their conversation afterwards – each would have difficulty recognizing the others’ description of that walk, unless there was something they had all noticed.

Seeing the forest for the trees

Consider how this relates to your practice. How you perceive your practice as you walk through the door will be remarkably different from how your patients perceive it – and an anxious patient who is coming to the practice for the first time will have a different perception than one who is returning for a second or third visit. Just as the tree surgeon may not have been able to see the forest for the trees, are you aware of how your patients perceive your practice?

Reality truly is a construct. Each of us lives in our own individually constructed reality, based on our own internal system of filters: what is important to us, what we believe about the world around us, our past memories, motivations, and so on. The experiences we have encountered help us to hold the beliefs and values by which we live our lives, and we constantly look for evidence to support those beliefs.

The anxious patient will find ample evidence to support his/her view that the dental office is a very scary place to be. Take the terrifyingly unfamiliar operating microscope, for example – which to you, is merely a useful and necessary adjunct, and which you probably barely notice otherwise. Because of our filters, our experiences affect us in different ways; we cannot expect everybody to react in the same way to a particular event. Our internal thoughts about something will influence our physiology, our state of mind, and ultimately our behavior. How we process our thoughts about Monday mornings, for example, has a direct effect on our state of mind.

We are constantly giving out tiny physiological signals about the way in which we internally represent our world to ourselves; clues about our own filters and how we process our thoughts. We give out these signals unconsciously – we can’t help but communicate.

I know what you’re thinking

We also pick these signals up unconsciously from others, but it is possible, through training in neurolinguistic programming (NLP) techniques, to develop our own sensory acuity.

By doing so, we can start to consciously pay attention to the tiny signals that others send out, and gain clues as to how they are processing their thoughts. This means that we can learn how to recognize when patients are uncomfortable, whether they understand what we are telling them, or even whether they are intending to follow our advice. It can also help us to create a feeling of trust and empathy with that patient; we start to understand their point of view and appreciate their feelings. Remember that in any communication, the meaning of that communication is the response you get.

As you start to pay conscious attention to these signals, notice also how your own state of mind is influencing your own physiology – what unconscious signals are you giving off to others? Learning to communicate well with your team and your patients has never been more important. People need to feel that you care for and listen to them. Just imagine what this version of reality could mean for your practice.

Joanna Taylor, MHS (Acc), is practice manager at John Taylor Dental Care in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England. She is a clinical hypnotherapist, an NLP master practitioner, and an INLPTA certified trainer. She provides courses and in-house training in communication skills, stress management, and hypnosis for the dental team in addition to one-to-one coaching and therapy.




Stay Relevant With Endodontic Practice US

Join our email list for CE courses and webinars, articles and more..

Scroll to Top