Sometimes, what you thought you heard a patient say isn’t what they said. And as a dentist, that can get you into trouble! And to help you be a better communicator and avoid misunderstandings, Kirk Behrendt brings in Dr. Kelley Brummett from The Pankey Institute to share some insight into polishing those skills. Listening isn’t just about hearing words! To learn how to be present, open, and a better listener, listen to Episode 474 of The Best Practices Show!

Main Takeaways:

  • What you thought you heard may not be what was said.
  • Listen to people’s body language, not just their words.
  • Don’t end conversations with an answer.
  • Ask your team for help.
  • Learn to be present.


  • “It’s a continual process to learn about how we as dentists, how we as humans, can be better listeners.” (7:50—7:58)
  • “Whenever you’re having a conversation with someone, and let’s say you ask them a question like, ‘Hi, how can I help you?’ and they give you a response back, it’s asking another question instead of just closing that conversation with an answer. Because oftentimes, what we’re doing is we’re trying to dial into what the real, whether it’s a cause-effect link, so we can help. Because it’s one thing when you say, ‘This tooth is broken. You need a crown,’ and the patient says, ‘Okay, I agree.’ But then, if they don’t schedule, and if we didn’t ask another question like, ‘Is there anything that might get in the way of scheduling this today?’ or, ‘Are there any other questions that you have?’ or, ‘Is there anything I can show you?’ you might not understand some limitations a patient has, and that can be frustrating.” (12:13—13:18)
  • “I have found, for myself, that I can run into trouble by missing something really critical with a patient, and what I thought I heard sometimes isn’t exactly what the patient was saying.” (15:25—15:37)
  • “Whenever I’m with a restorative patient and I’ve got to go straight to hygiene, as I’m walking to that hygiene room, [I try] to make a ritual of, how do I disconnect from the patient I was with? How do I not make eye contact with the front desk — because that will cause me to be hijacked to a different direction — and then walk into the next room with as much awareness and openness as I can.” (16:25—16:54)
  • “The biggest way to close the gap . . . is if I can recognize that if I ask the question to the patient, or to the person I’m having the conversation with, ‘Help me understand what I thought I heard,’ or, ‘Let me say back to you what we’re doing right here,’ or, ‘Let me say back what I just heard you say to me.’ Ask for some clarity. And I’ll be honest, I think that that’s a really hard thing to do because there’s a rejection piece, possibly, because you might be received negatively or, ‘What do you mean? You haven’t been listening to me.’ So, it’s scary.” (18:27—19:21)
  • “I had a patient in my chair, and he was a mechanic. And he never wanted to put his fingers in his mouth, as far as flossing, because they were stained. And why he would not floss, it took me a few conversations to ask him, ‘What’s that about?’ And he said, ‘Look at my hands.’ But I’d never really asked him before. I was just, ‘Okay, you decided not to floss. We’ll just leave that be.’” (20:06—20:33)
  • “The other thing I experienced, which has really affected the way that I manage patients while I’m doing dentistry, [the patient] was really struggling in the chair with suction and water and air. And sometimes, we’ll hear dentists talk about, ‘Gosh, this person was so grabby, and they wanted me to do this. They didn’t trust me that I was going to take care of them.’ And I sat him up and I said, ‘Can I ask you a question? Has something happened to you? Because you seem concerned that something’s going to happen to you.’ And he’s like, ‘You know, after you asked me that question — I almost drowned once.’ I would have never thought that an experience of him drowning was similar to being suctioned or having water in your mouth — which is like waterboarding. It could be connected to a memory bank. And it was like, ‘That’s powerful.’” (20:35—21:33)
  • “[Don’t] just listen to people’s words. [Also listen to] their body language. I think that that’s key too.” (21:36—21:41)
  • “When people get an opportunity to — and I know this might sound weird — discover who they are in a dental chair, discover that they are a human being, they do have their circumstances, objectives, temperament, that we love to say, while they’re in a dental chair — because I’m not a believer that work is work and home is home. I am my same person in both locations, and I have to figure out how I need to show up, and whenever I’m not. And so, I think that’s the same thing with a patient.” (23:00—23:43)
  • “I want my dental practice to be an educational institute. A lot of people say that. A lot of people have it, and it’s been the best thing for me. I don’t want to teach how to brush your teeth. I want to educate the whys behind the choices you can make, and not judge you, but help you with your decisions about why you may want to fulfill that.” (28:56—29:25)
  • “Have a meeting with your team. Say, ‘Hey, I feel like I don’t have enough time in the hygiene visit to make a connection or get to understand a patient.’ Have them carry on the conversation that they’ve been having for 45 minutes for you as you step into the room rather than stepping back to the side not saying one word, and you take over — because we take over because we know we’ve got 10 more minutes. And get in some type of a partnership with somebody in your office, even the front desk.” (32:28—33:10)
  • “I’m listening to understand versus I’m listening for them to hear me.” (35:30—35:36)


  • 0:00 Introduction.
  • 2:05 Dr. Brummett’s background.
  • 7:25 Why this is an important topic.
  • 8:49 Dentistry is the business of management.
  • 11:42 Don’t end the conversation with an answer.
  • 15:38 Learn to be present.
  • 17:54 Be aware of your patients’ body language.
  • 22:17 Who is the person in your dental chair?
  • 24:28 Clarify and dive deeper.  
  • 26:16 Doing behavioral dentistry.
  • 30:54 Where to start.
  • 34:52 Last thoughts.
  • 37:02 More about Dr. Brummett and how to get in touch.

Reach Out to Dr. Brummett:

Dr. Brummett’s Facebook:

Dr. Brummett’s social media: @kelleybrummett


The Pankey Institute:

Essentials III course (sold out):

The Restorative Nation:

Dr. Kelley Brummett:

Dr. Kelley D. Brummett was born and raised in Missouri. She attended the University of Kansas on a full-ride scholarship in springboard diving and received honors for being the Big Eight Diving Champion on the 1-meter springboard in 1988 and 1992. Dr. Brummett received her Bachelor of Arts in communication at the University of Kansas and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in nursing. After practicing nursing, Dr. Brummett went on to earn a degree in dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia. She has continued her education at The Pankey Institute to further her love of learning and her pursuit to provide quality individual care. Dr. Brummett is a clinical instructor at Georgia Regents University and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.

Dr. Brummett and her husband, Darin, have two children, Sarah and Sam. They have made Newnan their home for the past nine years. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and playing with her dogs. Dr. Brummett is an active member of the ADA, GDA, AGDA, and an alumnus of The Pankey Institute.


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