By Dr. Robert Frazer, Jr.

“Not surprisingly, a group’s (i.e. dental team’s) emotional intelligence (EI) requires the same capabilities of an emotionally intelligent individual: Self-Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management. What’s different is the EI competencies relate both to each individual and the group as a whole.” These are the words of Daniel Goleman, PhD, world authority on EI, author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership. So where do you begin to elevate your practice’s EI?

First, the doctor/leader must understand and then elevate their EI. Each of the key staff must either have been chosen in part for high EI or similarly raise theirs. Goleman’s and many others research point out… that 75% of an individuals or groups’ (practice’s) success is the result of EI, when necessary technical competencies are present. Understanding can be achieved by reading the books mentioned above or Robert Cooper’s, Executive EQ. Simply understanding EI is not enough…the only way to elevate EI is through actual practice.

Remember emotional responses arise out of the limbic system (primitive brain), below the level of the neo-cortex (cognitive brain). One cannot avoid having an emotional response, unless you are Spock or Mr. Data on Star Trek!  However ardently dental education tried they were not able to eliminate our emotions… yes, unfortunately they  did teach many of us to suppress them. We learned “therapeutic distance,” under the guise that it would help us remain objective and be more effective healers. The indigenous people never had such a belief, in fact indigenous peoples the world-over; believe that “the healer…pays attention to what has heart!”   

I’ve had the mixed blessing of dealing with a life threatening illness and know first hand of the power of an empathic physician and medical team. Early in my career, when I was learning how to connect with people as they entered my practice, a 65-year old woman came to me for dental care after radiation for oral cancer. In those days my new patient interview was somewhat clumsy, especially in how I expressed my philosophy. During her first visit, while interviewing and discussing our approach, I said, “I believe people are more important than teeth.” That may sound really dumb to you!  But, she reached out and touched my hand and said, “I’ve been in the medical system (at  a famous cancer center) for some twenty-four months. During that time I’ve been seen and / or treated by at least fifty physicians. I have felt like a pawn in the medical system. All that time, I’ve been referred to as an interesting squamous cell carcinoma or a particularly complex oral cancer. Isn’t it ironic that it is my dentist who is the first to show humanity to me!” Wow, if I ever believed in therapeutic distance, it vanished that day as I tried to reflect my understanding of what it must have been like to have been objectified and not acknowledged as a whole person…her feelings of fear, hopelessness, uncertainty, discouragement, being alone.

Author and Pediatric Oncologist, Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, said,  “To treat whole people, we must be present as whole people!” So, to be more whole, begin by becoming more aware of your emotions, and those of other’s. Then learn how to manage emotions toward positive outcomes. This is best accomplished through daily practice. You can learn to rewire your neurological circuitry by working with experts like counselors or psychologists, particularly those trained in family systems therapy, since most of our emotional response pathways were laid down in childhood.

Your office can participate in practical workshops experiences where you practice real life situations learning how to respond in different more emotionally intelligent ways. Another simple, effective tool is journaling at the end of the day or week, reflecting on the events of the week and how you felt and responded, plus how you might respond differently next time. Tape (video if possible) recording your dialogue gives you an opportunity to see how well you listen and respond to the emotional cues. Finally, Goleman’s research shows that a long-term coaching relationship, where you exam your behavior regularly with an objective observer, is one of the most effective ways to elevate your E.Q. In our work we’ve seen some extraordinary results, but you must act!

Originally published in Dental Economics


Bob Frazer Directory of Dental SpeakersContributor:


An innovative leader in the world of dentistry, Dr. Frazer is a highly skilled speaker, coach/consultant for dentists and practices offering transformational services including strategic planning, performance coaching, Emotional Intelligence education, and exceptional leadership skills.  Recognized as the foremost authority in strategic planning and management in dentistry today, he has led dentists, associations, dental schools, manufacturers, and countless private practices across North America to become strategic thinkers achieving the highest levels of success, significance, fulfillment and profitability.


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