Most dentists are constantly feeling stressed. It can come in the form of worry over money, or fear over a complaint, or shame over a disciplinary decision. It can show its face daily when patient after patient looks to their Insurance Gods to make decisions about treatment, and can even take the form of uncertainty when the world around us changes overnight and we can’t do anything about it.

If you have ever found yourself in that emotional turbulence and thought that there was no way out, there is something simple you can do to change that. Here is your new rule book, your guide to being a better dentist, living by your own design, your own style, with calm, control, and abundance:

Ten Rules of an Unusual Dental Practice:

1) Apply the 80/20 rule to everything – this is rule # 1 because if you stop reading now and only apply this one thing, that will be enough to make a massive shift in how you run your practice. This goes for everything you do, money, focus, time, energy; applying the 80/20 rule helps you funnel through and eliminate the stuff that wastes your day, drains you emotionally, gives you the most daily stress, and causes you to doubt yourself.

2) Say no at least once a day – best thing I ever started doing and will never stop. Many of us in dentistry are here to help people. So when someone asks us to do something we know we shouldn’t, but they look at us with their puppy eyes or tell us their sad story, we can’t help ourselves and we concede. But in doing so, we chip away a little of our strength and ultimately, these are the ones that bite us in the a#$ later anyways, so if your first gut reaction is a “no”, go with it. It will save you so much later on.

3) Listen and repeat before you say any of your own words – When you watch most dentists present treatment to their patients, they jump way too fast to telling the patient what to do, and don’t spend enough time listening to the patient. People need to feel heard, and if you can stop rehearsing your own treatment presentation long enough to hear your patient and then reiterate back to them what it is they are trying to tell you, they will feel valued, respected, and understood. And a patient who gets this from you will ultimately follow your lead when it comes to what to do regarding their dentistry.

4) “Patch it” is never a solution – what happens when your patient needs a crown but “can’t afford it” or their “insurance won’t cover it” and you “patch it up”? More often than not, the tooth breaks, or something else happens later, or they expect you to do this again, and you loose. You loose credibility, you loose respect, you loose money, or you loose the ability to recommend proper treatment. In the end, the short term fix ends up costing you more than the short-term feeling of “helping” will give you.

5) Don’t expect everyone to like you – not all patients should be your patients. When someone sounds unreasonable from the beginning, or you know you can’t meet their expectations, don’t bite. Let yourself, or your office administrator, say “I don’t think we are the office for you” once in a while. It will free you to have more energy for those patients who are a great fit.

6) Accept challenges with grace and calm – I remember my endo instructor in dental school once said to me: “if you have never broken a file doing a root canal, you haven’t done many root canals”. As much as we want to believe that our name will never be on that dreaded publication (you know what I am talking about), if you work in dentistry long enough, you will have your 15 minutes of fame. Don’t be ashamed, and don’t feel bad, and don’t let this kick you down for longer than it takes to read it and set it down. Remember that you are not defined by one situation, or one complaint, or one person’s opinion of you. Accept it, learn from it, and move on. Life is too short to dwell on what we can’t change.

7) Step up as a leader – leadership is a special skill, if you ask me. It can come in many forms, anywhere from the most quiet and serene to the most outgoing and loud. It’s not a type or a style or even a definition. It comes in a similar form to parenting; you can be a great parent in many ways, as long as you have your children’s back and well being in mind at all times.

8) Develop kick-as$ systems – I am a big believer in systems. Building and implementing great systems into the work-place creates unity, teamwork, predictability and takes the guess work out of the equation. It helps people perform better, and that builds a strong team because they see results of their efforts together. And there is nothing more empowering to a person than seeing that they made a difference.

9) Give the benefit of the doubt – I used to look at people sometimes and say “how can you be so stupid?”. Something that would be so clear or so simple to me, and there they are completely ignorant of it. And then I looked in the mirror and realized it all starts with me so I said to myself: “how can you be so stupid?”. People don’t know what they don’t know. It can be simple or complicated but until someone teaches them, invests the time to train them, shows them a different way, how can they possibly do any better? So I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are doing the best they can with what they have. This will save you from not only loosing out on great people who just need time to learn, it will also raise you as a leader in their eyes, and build tremendous trust.

10) Learn to communicate effectively – good communication is key to managing expectations, accounting for the unexpected, and treating people well. Learning better communication is an ongoing passion of mine, and I find that the more I learn, and the better my relationships become, the more I want to learn. When you shift how you listen and how you process information and behaviour, and then you shift how you show up in the world, you impact the way people behave around you. And that is true influence: greater impact plus higher energy, both of which you get to send out to the world.