Communication skills

Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills for dental practitioners. Your verbal and written communication skills can help you to relate to the people in your care, build positive relationships with colleagues, share accurate information, avoid misunderstandings or conflict, and deliver better outcomes for patients.

If you need some help with your communication skills and would like to chat to someone, call our confidential 24/7 support line on 1800 377 700.
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Learning how to communicate clearly with your co-workers and patients is an important skill to develop as you start your career. Poor communication can result in less effective care, compromised teamwork, and result in low job satisfaction and staff retention rates. Communication errors are a major contributing factor in incidents and adverse events.

When you sign your employment contract, you are agreeing to meet certain organisational values. How you communicate at work is part of meeting those conditions and helps to create a positive working environment where communication between staff, the people receiving care and their families is respectful.

Communication – what is your style?

Everyone has their own style of communication. We all express our opinions and needs differently. When you are a new graduate or a student on clinical placement it can take time to figure out the best way to communicate with co-workers and those in your care.

There are three main styles of communication – passive, aggressive and assertive.

Assertive communication

Assertive communicators are:

  • empowered
  • respectful of your needs and the needs of others
  • able to communicate their opinion effectively
  • direct and to the point, and
  • approachable.

This is the most effective style of communication. It enables you to contribute to discussions and maintain boundaries while being respectful to others. It’s a diplomatic communication style that co-workers and patients will respond well to.

Passive communication

Passive communicators are:

  • shy and don’t stand up for themselves
  • overly accommodating and rarely say no, and
  • usually overworked and stressed.

Passive communicators have trouble expressing opinions and feelings and can become resentful.

Aggressive communication

Aggressive communicators:

  • disrespect the needs/opinions of others
  • may be identified by others as a bully
  • don’t listen to the opinions of others
  • humiliate or intimidate others when they speak up
  • use closed and hostile body language, and
  • are not approachable.

Aggressive communicators think their needs are more important than the needs of others or the team.

Communicating with people in your care

Communication is vital part of providing dental care.

Strategies that may help you to improve your interactions with patients include:

  • don’t judge – be genuine and show empathy
  • tailor what you say to your listener’s needs (such as non-English speaking, cognitive impairment, or culture)
  • think about what you need to say before saying it
  • respect their privacy and confidentiality, and
  • give them time to ask questions and air their concerns.

Remember that your patient may be feeling anxious. To help make them feel at ease and have confidence in the care you are providing, be empathetic and use an assertive style of communication.

Communication within a multidisciplinary team

Multidisciplinary teams deliver better patient outcomes when they communicate well.

Sharing information and communicating effectively within a team is key in the delivery of collaborative care.

It is not always easy, especially if you are new to an organisation as a recent graduate or working in that team for a short time as a student on clinical placement.

But if achieved, communicating well builds trust between team members, as well as an understanding of shared responsibility and multidisciplinary decision-making processes.

Be assertive while communicating in a multidisciplinary team and:

  • have confidence in your professional practice – value your skills and knowledge
  • consider the common goal, which is person-centred care
  • remember as a student or a recent graduate you may not know everything about someone else’s education, skills and knowledge – ask questions and be curious
  • show respect for each other’s practice and professional judgement, and
  • understand your colleagues’ roles and scope of practice.
Active listening

Active listening is a good skill to develop, as it makes people feel ‘heard’. Active listening means concentrating on what the speaker is saying and how they are expressing themselves. It is a non-verbal and verbal technique that makes the speaker feel understood and respected.


What can I do next?

Find out more about communication and being a student or recent graduate:

Our service provides free, independent and confidential support to dental practitioners and students Australia-wide. If you would like to speak to someone call us 24/7 on 1800 377 700. If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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