Are You Asking Intentional Questions?

Asking intentional questions takes preparation and planning. The good news is we become more skilled at it as we practice.

An intentional question should be thought evoking and create a pause that generates curiosity. To ask an intentional question, we start by actively listening. Then, ask yourself, are you clear with the statement/question? Next, move to ask clarifying questions to enhance communications and relationships.

For example:

  • I am curious what you mean by…
  • Tell me more about that…
  • Help me understand what that looks like…

Clinical Application

Take time to observe and understand the patients’ behavioral styles.

“Katie mentioned you shared with her that you were a little nervous about today’s appointment. Tell me more about that so we can address your concerns and increase your comfort today.”

Delivering a patient’s ideal dental experience starts by addressing concerns and fears, and then discuss the best approach to providing the dental work needed. Acknowledging the patient’s fear and discussing the approach is psychologically comforting. By involving them in the solutions we build trust and provide a safe, comfortable environment.

Types of Questions

Distinct types of questions have their place in a conversation

Closed-ended question start with:  Will, Do /Does, Is, and Are

Open-ended question allow for conversation, increased knowledge, and information gathering. They begin with: What, How, and Why

Clinical Application

A clinical example of a closed-ended question looks like this.

  • Do you have any changes in your health or medications that we need to update?

Most people will say no so you can move on!

An open-ended question could be structured this way.

  • What medications, including OTC, vitamins, and supplements, you are currently taking?

When we use the right language, we get the information we need and more. This allows us to ask intentional questions, practice active listening, and guide the conversation to positively influence the patient’s dental journey in our practice.

Using Verbal Softeners

Clarifying questions should also include cooperative communication techniques. They are used both to prevent escalation and to defuse emotional situations.

Consider the way we say things to each other or your patients.

People don’t respond well to absolute, authoritarian, or harsh language.

Try using a sales training technique of inserting verbal softeners.

  • Phrases and words like “sometimes”, “it could be”, and “perhaps” state things in a less abrasive way.
  • Other softeners include “it’s possible,” and “occasionally.”

My favorite verbal softener is “perhaps.” 

  • “Perhaps we have had miscommunicated. Tell me more about your interpretation or expectations of the treatment plan we discussed last week.” 

Verbal softeners are valuable tools in helping you appear more cooperative and likable to prevent conflict.

Two actions you can clinically implement today are:

  1. Add an open-ended question to your health history requesting updated medications like above.
  2. Select a verbal softener and practice using it with patients during a conversation. It will become a habit very quickly.

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