Perception & Expectations Drive Behavior

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Perception & Expectations Drive Behavior

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Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of dentistry, and life in general, is that things are often not what they appear to be – particularly in the beginning.

And this truth naturally includes our perception of others and their intentions and agendas. Studies tell us that we form opinions about others within the first eight seconds of first meeting them, from there, we seek to confirm our initial perception.

In other words, we use confirmation bias to color in the details around our initial psychological sketch to then draw a conclusion which is likely to be in alignment with way we want to see things.

And that is an elaborate way of saying that we use rationalizations to explain the world around us to ourselves more often than we use our self-discipline and resourcefulness to uncover the real truth – particularly with regard to how OTHERS perceive it.

New patients who come to us full of memories, assumptions, and biases as well. So, the formation of a new relationship with a person is much like a dance with a stranger and somewhat forced together by circumstance. And that dance may be harmonious because what they are expecting is what is happening, or it may be an uncomfortable and even threatening herky-jerky experience…an experience that they can not wait to end.

The goal for us then, is to facilitate the former and avoid the later, as the later is counter-productive with regard to successful collaboration.

In other words, if the very nature of our relationship with another person is uncomfortable, what is the likelihood of them making good decisions for themselves? And what therefore is the likelihood of that person making a decision which leads toward a higher level of health and a lower level of putting their health at risk?

How do we do that?

One word – marketing.

Marketing? The manipulative vehicle which is the very scourge of our capitalistic society?

Yep – that marketing.

You see, marketing has nothing to do with ethics, although it may or may not be ethical. It may lead a person toward a good choice or a bad choice. And that is because marketing is about image and expectation management.

In the world of dentistry, we have thousands of opportunities to create images and shape expectations. We also have thousands of opportunities to ignore those opportunities or even to undercut them.

So yes, dentistry’s perception problem is of our own making, and therefore only ours to solve.

And because we – collectively speaking – have failed so miserably at conveying a health-centered message about dentistry ( instead we convey that it is about things – implants, teeth cleaning, saving money, veneers, etc.) that most people fail to perceive dentistry as having much of anything to do with their total health.

As Pogo infamously said, “I have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”

We can change the direction of our profession as it careens toward corporate consolidation and depersonalizations only by changing the public’s perception of it.

And that is what co-discovery can do. Bob Barkley had that figured out fifty years ago. Why didn’t we listen?

Paul A Henny, DDS

Thought Experiments LLC, ©2017

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