Dental Office Communication: Address Others Using Their DISC Quadrant

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Think about your dental office, colleagues, and the patients. Does everyone understand each other? Would you agree that communication between others is easy in your office? If you cannot answer yes to these questions, you may need some tips on how to better connect, communicate, and present with others in your office.

DISC is a four-quadrant behavioral model that William Marston first developed in 1928. In fact, the four-quadrant model is not new. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, developed his own four-quadrant system that was referred to as the four temperaments.

Similar to the four temperaments, the DISC system helps us understand why individuals behave in certain ways. The system provides cues on responding more thoughtfully to facilitate better communication. I like to call this providing a common language, and I’m not referring to a common language such as English or Spanish. I’m referring to words such as adjectives and concepts used to describe an individual’s behavioral style. When we all have the same basis for understanding, we are more likely to be successful in our communication attempts.

The Platinum Rule

The Golden Rule applies to treat others as you want to be treated, and DISC takes this a step further. In the DISC methodology, this is referred to as the Platinum Rule, which is to treat others as they want to be treated. When you think about it, this concept makes perfect sense. Why would we assume that everyone wants to be treated the same as a specific individual? We are all individuals, and each individual is different ‒ so is their communication style!

In my 10 years of training on the DISC model, I have learned that most people do not just fall into one category. They can relate with concepts and descriptors from each, with one category typically being the dominant one. In the world of DISC, we refer to this as High. For example, if you closely relate to the D quadrant, you are considered a High D.

After training over 500 individuals in the dental industry, I have found that 65% more closely relate to the S style. We will briefly cover each of the styles below. But before we do that, it’s important to note that no style is better or worse than the next. Each of the styles or quadrants is equal, albeit different.

Quadrants of Behavior

So, what do all these letters mean? Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of the categories or quadrants of behavior.

D stands for Dominance. This quadrant gives a clue about how you respond to problems and challenges in your world. Can you describe yourself or a patient as being direct, assertive, competitive, confrontational, innovative, or a risk-taker? If so, you may fall into the D quadrant.

An example of a High D patient is when she contacts the office, she states that she needs an appointment on Tuesday at 10 a.m. and must be out of the chair by 10:45 a.m. She states it’s important that she does not run behind. This patient is being direct and assertive about how her appointment needs to run.

I stands for Influence. This quadrant shares how you typically respond to people in your environment. Can you relate to descriptive words such as expressive, emotional, trusting, talkative, outgoing, or convincing? If so, you may fall into the I quadrant.

An example of a High I is a co-worker who loves to chat about his evenings. He goes into elaborate details of the night’s events; the conversation sometimes runs so long that you need to politely cut him off. This is a talkative individual who is likely very expressive and outgoing.

S stands for Steadiness. This quadrant gives us a look at how you may respond to the pace of your environment. If you hear the words such as steady, stable, patient, loyal, devoted, or relaxed, this may be the quadrant you most closely relate to.

An example of a High S is the dental hygienist who has worked with the same doctor and had the same schedule for 15 years now. You have no plans to go anywhere else. This is an example of a loyal, steady, and stable individual.

C stands for Compliance. This quadrant helps us understand how you respond to and feel about procedures and rules. Individuals who closely relate to this quadrant may describe themselves as compliant, rule followers, analytical, accurate, detail-oriented, and cautious.

An example of a High C is when a dental hygienist has just explained to a patient that he or she would benefit from a fluoride treatment. Your patient asks for a brochure, flyer, website address, or any additional information so that they can research it on their own before they decide to accept the treatment. This individual loves knowledge, and they want to know all the details and facts.

Recognizing Dental Patient Styles

When we share the common DISC language, we can communicate more effectively with people. You might be thinking, how will I know what style someone is if they do not take a DISC assessment or if I only speak with them for a few minutes on the phone? The great thing about DISC is that it is an easy system to learn and becomes second nature when you know the language. You soon will be able to read people after just a few minutes and be able to determine, with pretty good accuracy, what style that person more closely relates to.

Here are a few tips for how to get started with better communication in your office.

  1. Learn the DISC language. This includes learning the four quadrants and what adjectives describe each section. Just a few minutes per week is all it takes.
  2. Try it out. Pick someone and see if you can read their behavioral style. Consider what descriptive words describe this individual.
  3. Once you become comfortable with this, try to communicate in a way they want to be communicated with.

For example, my colleague starts the day with a quick “morning,” and I find this unfriendly behavior. She doesn’t even stop to really say, “Good morning,” “Hello,” or “How was your evening?” She simply walks by and into her own operatory.

DISC thoughts: Your co-worker may be a High D. An individual like this values time management and likes to get straight to the point ‒ getting set up for the day, in this case. The D style is typically fast-paced, action-oriented, and doesn’t prefer small talk. When a High D walks into the office in the morning, they are just getting down to the business of the day and don’t see the need for extra fluff in the form of a formal greeting or chatting about last night.

DISC solution: Consider that this individual is not being rude or unfriendly; they are just moving quickly to start their day. If this is something that you cannot look past, let them know that you thrive on greetings and that it would really make your day if they stopped to say “Hello” or “Good morning.” The compromise may be that, when or if they do this, you don’t drag them into a conversation about what you did last night. Keep it short and sweet.

DISC can be used in all types of circumstances. Communication is at the heart of what we do day in and day out. We communicate on a daily basis with our friends, family, patients, co-workers, and managers. When we understand each of the styles’ communication preferences, we can tailor our message, our tone, and our pace to match the other person’s wants.

Test Your Knowledge! What DISC Style is This?

“Hey, Sara! This is Alice Jones. It’s a lovely day today, don’t you think? I hope it doesn’t rain later. Anyway, I was calling to find out if any appointments were available this week.”

  • The answer is the DISC I style. Mrs. Jones is super friendly, bubbly, and talks a lot before she gets to the point.

“This is Mrs. Jones. I need to schedule my cleaning for Tuesday at 2 p.m.”

  • The answer is the DISC D style. In this example, Mrs. Jones is speaking directly and to the point. Notice that she even left out her first name when announcing who she was.

Jenny has just found out about a new product. She has requested the manufacturer rep to provide pamphlets, flyers, and a training session before deciding whether or not to offer them to the patients.

  • The answer is the DISC C style. Jenny is asking for a lot of information so that she can make a decision. She needs multiple sources to feel comfortable.

Matt is the longest-term employee at ABC Dental. He has worked the same schedule for the last five years. The office hours are changing, and Matt has now been asked to work a different schedule. At first, he is hesitant. He’s always worked this schedule. But he does it because he’s a team player and doesn’t want to rock the boat.

  • The answer is DISC S style. Matt is a “steady-eddy” and does not prefer change. He is, however, loyal and will do what it takes to be supportive.

It’s funny how sometimes what we believe is the easiest thing to do is actually the hardest. You can have closer friendships, reduce conflict, or get better case acceptance when you understand more about the preferred communication styles of those you interact with. Know your DISC style and the style of others and adapt accordingly.

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