How to Have Meaningful Discussions

February 3, 2019 Bill Gregg DDS

It’s critical to have discussions with team members about what behavioral influence entails.

Behavioral conversations are efforts with patients to encourage health. They involve discovering current perceptions and encouraging choices for improved health – especially dental health. Considering today’s understanding of the oral-systemic connection to overall well being, we owe it to our patients to continually offer them the opportunity for health.

Avoiding the BS Trap

As such, it is essential to consider that social conversation is not behavior conversation. I call it the BS trap. Yes, there is a social component to behavioral. Connecting on a personal level is critical.

As Robert Cialdini says in his book “Influence,” people like doing business with people they like. In a relationship-based practice, full engagement with patients is critical. Engagement increases the likelihood of being listened to and influencing healthy behavior.

AND, we must avoid the BS trap. Conversations need to be about them, not us. Conversations to influence values and behaviors need to be about patients. So, how do you know when social conversation has slipped into BS?

Encouraging Meaningful Discussion With Patients

The key is to realize when you are interjecting yourself into the conversation. Avoid personal words: I, me, my, mine, us, we, our, etc. It is not about us – our story – but about the patient, the patient’s story, the patient’s health values, and their objectives.


  • “I went there …”
  • “When I did that …”
  • “My experience …”

How do you shift from social (the starting point in conversations) to behavioral? Have one or two powerful questions to shift the conversation:

  • “How are you feeling about your health?” (Perhaps more powerful than: “What has changed in your health?”)
  • “What are you doing to enhance your health?”
  • “How are you taking good care of yourself?”

Then “Stay in the Question.” Continue to follow the thread they share. Remember …

Their first response is not the answer. It is their first response.

Questions are NOT the key. Listening is. Go below the surface.

  • “What else?”
  • “What do you feel?”
  • “Say more about that.”
  • “Do you have any ideas?”
  • “Tell me more about …”
  • “Yes, I understand.”
  • “I’m glad to know that.”
  • “Thank you for sharing that.”
  • “Is there anything else?”
  • “What is your suggestion?”

These questions work both ways. Teaching you to turn the focus onto the patient and teaching the patient to communicate their needs more clearly.

Have you read this article from team behavior expert Mary Osborne on understanding a hygienist’s true expertise?

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About Author

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Bill Gregg DDS

I attended South Hills High School in Covina, Denison University in Granville, Ohio and the University of Redlands in Redlands, California prior to dental school at UCLA. My post-graduate education has included an intensive residency at UCLA Hospital, completion of a graduate program at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education ; acceptance for Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD); and in 2006 I earned the prestegious Pankey Scholar. Continuing education has always been essential in the preparation to be the best professional I am capable of becoming and to my ongoing commitment to excellence in dental care and personal leadership. I am a member of several dental associations and study groups and am involved in over 100 hours of continuing education each year. The journey to become one of the best dentists in the world often starts at the Pankey Institute. I am thrilled that I am at a point in my professional life that I can give back. I am honored that I can be a mentor to others beginning on their path. As such, I have discovered a new passion; teaching. I am currently on faculty at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education devoting 2-3 weeks each year to teaching post-graduate dental programs. In other presentations my focus is on Leadership and includes lifestyle, balance and motivation as much as dentistry.

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