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Episode 167: The Importance Of Clear Communication In Dental Partnerships

“You need to know about them, you need to have an open door of communication.”

I hear this complaint all the time: “Dealing with my partner/associate is difficult.”  I’ve got some personal experience here. I want to start out by saying that early on in my career I wasn’t following the advice I’m going to give you today about handling partner relationships. But thanks to some patient people in my life, I’ve developed some truly wonderful associate relationships.

Over the course of my career, I had nine or ten associates. There were some in the beginning who didn’t last very long in my office. I always assumed it was their problem, not mine. But later on in my career, I took a look at the wide open back door of my practice that associates were leaving through and thought, “There’s got to be a reason that people come and go.”

it’s something many dentists miss: your relationship with your associates is like a marriage and how well you communicate. You have to communicate, and do thing together, and get to know each other.

At Productive Dentist Academy, we talk a lot about how a relationship is “an agreed upon course of action between two people.” And that’s what most of us owners miss. We forget about the relationship and the person we’re supposed to be in relationship with. We don’t train our partners or approach them with that relationship in mind.

So today, I’m going to share some stories and examples from my career that I hope will help you build solid relationships with your dental partners including:

  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Strategies and tactics for open communication
  • The importance of crucial conversations


Hi, this is Dr. Bruce Baird, with the Productive Dentist Podcast and today, you know, I hear this conversation all the time that, you know, dealing with partnerships or dealing with Associates, and how difficult it is and, you know, I’ve got some personal experience here. I think I had nine or 10 Associates over the years and I, I don’t think I was following the advice I’m going to give you today early on in my career, but I began to learn, oh, sometime probably 15 years in, after associates would come and go and come and go, that there’s got to be a reason that people come and go, or that they, they for instance, one associate, came in, ran copies of records, took eight employees and left and opened up a practice on Monday and this happened to have been a friend of mine who is working with me. So it’s kind of like coming home, and all your furniture is gone and your wife’s gone. So you know, that’s the kind of feeling that you have, but I hear these, these rumblings and these complaints about associates and about partners and I’ve never actually been an associate. So I can’t, I can’t address it from that side, but I can only feel how important it is. It’s like a relationship. It’s really like a marriage, how, how well you communicate with your spouse, you know, you know, we’re talking, you know, we’d go to dinner, we do things together. Later on in my career, you know, at first I would say, “Okay, this is the way it’s gonna be. It’s my office, this is where it’s gonna be,” and then as I, you know, as I saw the back door wide open with people coming in, stay in for a year, year and a half, two years, and then leaving and I never cared if they went down the street. That was not my concern, you know, I just wanted to find somebody who was going to be around, they could learn the systems that we had and what do you know, how do we, you know, how much time does it take to retrain?

Well, unfortunately, you know, most of us don’t train our associates or partners, working with our partners, I say train a partner, I’m talking about referring back and forth between partners, having lunch once a week, where we’re communicating about things, all about dentistry, but also things about family things about because this is it’s an agreed upon course of action between two parties. So we talk about relationships. And it can be, you know, it can be frustrating, you know, with associates, because they’re not doing it the way you do it. But you have to remember, you may have been doing it for 15 or 20 or 25 years, and they may be early out of school or it may be somebody that’s towards the end of their career and those require different skills to be able to work with them and if it’s a young dentist, first of all, I love having young dentists come in the office as an associate, you know, they’re wide-eyed, they’re, you know, they’re ready to go. They love seeing, you know, seeing what’s going on, and how we produce what we produce, but I wouldn’t really share with them how I do it. I We’ll just say, “Okay, you know, keep an eye on it here, you do the fillings, and you do this, and you do that.” When, when I started seeing that, that probably was not the best way of handling partners and associates, I had a partner early on in my career and, you know, we hung out together some, but we really were doing different things, we, we really had never sat down and discussed the future of the practice and where we wanted the practice to end, I was going to education all the time, and he was going home and, and playing with the kids. Great, no problem there and I’m glad, I wish I would have played, you know, gone home, you know, more often, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, we drifted apart, because I wanted the practice to be a model practice with, you know, unbelievable, you know, quality with unbelievable technology, high touch, and all of those things and it’s not that he didn’t want that, it’s just he wasn’t willing to put the work in to do that and so we drifted apart, I wish we would have communicated better than because we probably would still be partners, the guy that left and took all the charts, you know, I drew a line in the sand saying, you know, “This is the way we do things and, you know, I don’t, I don’t blame him for leaving.” I wish he would have said something to me, but that’s what happens when relationships break down and the same thing happens with associates. So how would I, how have I changed that? Well, I think a good example is, you know, Dr. Buske, Jeff Buske, that you guys know, and one dentist is got talent, and just an amazing dentist and amazingly educated, but he and I began sitting down first of all, we go do things together, we go to education together and I think our relationship is built on just a mutual understanding that we want to have a top-notch practice and we both want the same things, whatever that is for you. If you’re going to bring somebody and then that’s what you need to communicate with that partner to make sure you’re on the same page you’re playing, you know, you’re playing the same sheet of music. So and it’s critical that you do that, sitting down, maybe once a week, once a month, you know, whatever it is go to lunch, spend time with family understanding, you know, their family situations, just doing things together. You don’t have to spend every waking hour like you do at home with your spouse, but you, you want to know their family, you want to know about them, you want that have an open door of communication for your associate when they have a problem, you want to anticipate those issues, you know, how’s it going? Asking them those questions. Just like that would ask Cynthia my wife and say, “Honey, how’s it going today? You know, what do we have going on?” Oh, cool, and having an actual interest in what that person is doing and I think what we tend to do is we come to work, we do our work, and we leave and I hired you as an associate, go do some work. That yes, that’s, that’s basic, but I really believe that we can go way beyond that to build partnerships like Jeff and I had, you know, it was something where we really focused, you know, once a month on the business, we had our monthly meeting, and we would meet before and after that, which would be a couple of hours with the team. We have to take time to do those things and then we would spend one or two days towards the end of the year planning on what we wanted for the next year when that you notice, I didn’t say planning what I wanted, but planning what we want and, you know, when when you’re when you’re focused on team and you’re focused on leadership, and you’re focused on really, ultimately the patient, you know what’s best and by sharing that back and forth, Jeff and I were able to come to an understanding and always throwing questions out, what do you think about this? What do you think about that? Jeff asked that question that started, you know, compassionate finance 12 years ago, he said, “Can we finance people? If we aren’t ortho if they get if we got 2000 down,” and it just opened my mind and I probably wouldn’t have ever thought about that if Jeff hadn’t brought it up and so that communication back and forth and that understanding and that true, like you know, I really liked Jeff, I’d like the guys that I work with I, you, I really liked them a lot, but sometimes, you know, you have to have Crucial Conversations and those crucial conversations are extremely difficult to have if you’re not in relationship, if you’re in not communicating well back and forth. I’ll give you an example, you know, if you’ve got a partner, that you guys never talk, or anything, but you have to make a decision about something, for instance, quality of care, you’re seeing your partner there, they’re not going to education, they’re not doing the dentistry that you want, you have to have that crucial conversation, if you’re in a partnership, because that’s where you say, “Okay, I’m really focusing, you know, on the quality and stuff, you know, how are you looking at that? How are you thinking about that?” And try it, you try to submit each other into a direction saying, “Okay, this is the direction we want to take the practice, or that’s where the partnership can break down,” and, you know, maybe it is important to break down, then you’re not, you’re not communicating, one has a totally different idea, or a different thought, for the practice and it’s not congruent with your thoughts.

So, I think from the get-go, you constantly are meeting constantly are talking about the future, talking about present-day patients, sharing cases that you’re doing. You know, I just want to share with you this case that we’re doing on this implant case. and with Jeff, Jeff had so much knowledge and he was so good, he wasn’t real productive and I’ve talked about this in the past, you know, he wasn’t looking at his trackers on a daily basis. He wasn’t doing the things that it took to be productive. He was just learning the demo part of it and you know, that it was a crucial conversation and said, Jeff, it’s time for you to start doing the demonstration and it’s time for you to start training your team and it’s time for you to start doing these things and because we had a great relationship, he would say, “Oh, yeah, I know, I need to do it.” I said, “Well, we really do need to do it and I’m going to suggest it, and I’m going to kind of stay on you about it. Okay, buddy.” “Yeah, I want you to,” you know, it’s kind of like your kids, you know, and, and so I want them to know, that I’m interested in them, that I care about them and ultimately, I care about all the patients that come to our practice. So whether it’s an associate, whether it’s your partner, whether it’s a group of partners, you have to communicate as if it’s a marriage, and do the little things, you know, take all the families together to go do something, or, you know, just, just the things that are going to cement the relationship and again, I’d be movies, might be dinner, might just be going shopping somewhere, it may be all of us going to a continuing education program somewhere and spending time together, and formulating new ideas and new thoughts for the business, Jeff and I did that over and over and over again over the years. So anyway, hopefully, this was interesting for you. I’m going to be back around next week, and I look forward to sharing with you some more of my thoughts and ideas, and if you like the Productive Dentist podcast, please subscribe to it and please tell a friend. So thanks, I look forward to next week.

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