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Tell Me A Story: Responding to Patient Concerns


Before we go any further, re-read the title of this article. I did not say “overcoming objections.” I didn’t even say “managing objections.”  I used the word response for a reason. In this article, we will explore how to use story telling to help patients reduce their own concerns.

Many consultants connect objections to the words manage and overcome.  But think about the connotations of these words. Now apply this to yourself. Would you want someone (especially a salesperson) to manage or overcome you? Doesn’t that seem manipulative and even violent? These terms become even more problematic when we apply them to health care. Who would want a health care professional to manage or overcome their concerns?  We absolutely need to change our intentions from overcoming patient objections to a more compassionate intention: responding to concerns.

How to Respond to Concerns

You know the patient needs treatment. Your team knows the patient needs treatment. And, even the patient knows she needs treatment. But she still says:

  • Let me think about it
  • What would happen if we wait?
  • I can’t afford it right now 

You have choices about how you can respond. You can back away (“OK. Well, let us know when you’re ready”) or you can become aggressive (“If you don’t do this soon, the following even more terrible things will happen to you.) There are downsides to both approaches.

What should you do?

It might be 4:00 on a Thursday and your 5th “difficult” patient that day, but the first rule of response is to muster up some compassion for the patient.  Set aside your judgments of the patient’s choices and your own personal goals. Your response to the patient has to come from a place of compassion first. If you do that, everything else will follow.

Tell a story

Let’s start with me. As most of you know, I was the curriculum writer and a consultant at Pride Institute for 17 years. When I joined the Institute in 2000, the only thing I knew about dentistry was through my experiences as a patient. The other consultants told me it would take 2 years for me to be fully fledged. I scoffed. I had a B.A. and M.A.; I had worked for many years and transitioned my career twice. How hard could this be? Within six weeks I was crying at night. This was HARD. As an ex-English major, I didn’t even like holding a calculator, let alone lead dentists through complex financial planning with that and a pencil. I followed the other consultants around like a lost puppy and I requested so many private training sessions with my boss that she grew aggravated with me. And then 4 months after I was hired, after co-leading my first workshop, I was laid off! But I stayed in touch with the Institute, and a few months later I was rehired. I did learn, I expanded my skill set and 20 years later, I was “full-fledged” enough to start my own consulting firm. I learned that doggedness and nativity can eventually pay off.

Why do stories work?

My story relayed a struggle and eventual redemption. In your stories, you can talk about a time that you also faced a difficult health issue that also seemed unaffordable or insurmountable or you can talk about a patient from your practice in this situation. Good stories contain some drama – a dilemma or a problem that leads to a transition and a new understanding.

People relate to stories on an emotional level. And even if your patient has just given you a financial reason why she can’t do the treatment, the real obstacle is emotional. She needs to feel convinced that her hard-earned resources have to be applied to dental care.   A story about yourself or another patient who was in the same situation, with the same dilemma, speaks to the heart.

Your story should contain information on what helped you to find the resources or courage to move forward or how your office helped the patient get the help she needed. Paint a compelling word picture of moving from fear and uncertainty to action and positive resolution.

When you have completed your story, ask the patient questions:

  • What did you find moving or interesting in my story?
  • I’m committed to helping you get this happy ending too. What else would you like to know about this treatment plan that can help you move forward?
  • What do you see as your next best step?

In a future newsletter, I’ll describe your next option in responding to patient concerns.  Before then, think about some relevant examples of stories you can tell patients when they express fear or reluctance.

I am happy to help you craft a story or learn more about improving case acceptance. Contact me at [email protected] or schedule a call.

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“As an Office Manager, I’ve seen a great difference in my practice since starting with Sharyn. Three years ago our staff was in turmoil with a lot of infighting and gossip and some jealousy directed towards me.

I had given up because everything I did was judged. Now I have learned to have more one-to-one communication and by being more vulnerable with individuals I found my leadership voice. As a team, we’re all focused on the same goals.

Last year, in August we produced $88,000. This year we’re on track to produce $111,000 this month. I know it’s because we learned how to follow through with patients and communicate our expectations while building our systems.

Sharyn has gotten us out of our comfort zone and inspired us to dream bigger and it works.”

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