The Fine Art of Shutting Up

One of the key lessons that every salesperson learns is when to stop talking. The reason I bring this up in a dental blog is because, in case you hadn’t noticed,Hand over mouth successful dentistry involves effective communication in order to facilitate treatment acceptance.  (Put another way, selling.)  Human nature is what it is, and human behavior is often quite predictable.  If you’re trying to convince someone to do something that will benefit them, but they don’t understand the value, then they need to be sold on the idea.  Dentistry is a prime example of this.

Hence the fine art of shutting up. Let me show you how this is applied. Think about this typical situation in a dental office: you have presented the case to the patient and explained the cost, and now you ask, “What do you think?”  And then you wait.  Silently.  Most dentists (and a good many salespeople) can’t bear more than a few seconds of silence before jumping in with another thought.  Very often this thought sounds like, “If this seems like too much, you don’t have to do it right now.”  Or, “Maybe this is more than you can afford. We have other options.”  Now the patient is off the hook, and also thinks that perhaps that you were overselling them.  And you’ve done that patient a disservice, because most likely the treatment you recommended would be one of the best investments that patient will make in their life.

Truly great salespeople can do this and wait 20 minutes without uttering a word.  Why? Because you don’t know what the person is going to say!  One of the problems with having a good amount of experience is that we think we can figure out how people are going to respond ahead of time. But there is no upside in making that guess.  Find out what the person is actually going to say, what their real objection might be, or if they even have one.  Don’t fill in the blank yourself.

To give you an example in my own life, I was having a conversation with a meeting planner who was trying to book me as a speaker.  It was an event I really wanted to present at, and I knew it would be fun and a great audience.  The planner asked me what my honorarium was, and I told him my full fee, and then I almost said, “But for this event I’d be willing to do it for half that.”  But at the last second I remembered the rule, and I shut up. I waited.  And you know what he said? “That’s fine.”  I would have shorted myself half my fee if I hadn’t clammed up.

I get that this is difficult. In fact, this is perhaps the hardest skill to develop in business and in sales.  And the longer you’re waiting, the harder it is to stay silent. I know, I’ve been in that situation often. And if fact, most of the time the other person is waiting for you to speak, and hopefully give them another option. Don’t.  Just shut up and find out what they really are thinking.

In fact, try it when you’re on the other end of a transaction. Let’s say you’re buying a new car. A good salesman is going to present you with a “final” offer. If you wait long enough, he’ll fold and say, “Let me talk to my manager and see if I can do better.” Unless he’s really good. Then he’s going to wait for you to speak. It should be fun to see who gives in first, wouldn’t you say?

Another big bonus to shutting up is you get to listen instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next.  Once you’ve decided not to speak, you don’t have to think about your response, because you aren’t going to say anything until the other person does, and that will prompt you.  It’s very powerful, because really listening is also a challenge for most people. (It’s even harder to teach salespeople to do than getting them to shut up after their “closing” question.)

I’ll repeat that key thought: It’s not about planning what you will say next. Your full attention is on the other person. Because listening closely, attentively, will give you the real insight that you need once they finally do speak.  You will find out if they don’t understand the treatment, or the cost, or the importance of it, or if they just want to start.  And not only will this inform your response to this patient, it will also give you feedback on where you might be weak in your case presentation, so you can be more effective with the next patient.

This is not a trick. This is effective communication. And this applies to many different communications that occur in a practice.  It’s so easy to jump in with our own thoughts after a question, or to fill in the silence with more of our own words.  But it’s not effective.

When you meet a new patient, and you sit them down and ask, “How do you feel about your smile?”, wait and see what they say. They could be perfectly happy with their mangled grille, or they could be deeply embarrassed about a minuscule diastema. Don’t offer your opinion until you hear theirs.  Then tailor your response accordingly.

What you say after they finally speak is critical, and you want to be prepared for that as well. If they say, “That seems like a lot of money,” then your response would then be, “So if cost were not a factor, then you would start this treatment today?”  Then shut up. If they say yes, then you say, “Let me explain what financial options we have.”  If they say no, then you know that you haven’t gotten to the real objection yet.  Most likely they don’t appreciate the value or the importance or the urgency of the treatment.  But you won’t know unless you let them speak first.

Practice the fine art of shutting up, and I promise it will yield surprising dividends. I hear this could even work in your marriage. I may try that someday! 😉

[For a further discussion on the idea of sales in dentistry, read this blog post: “Is It Unprofessional to Sell Dentistry?”


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5 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Shutting Up

  1. Fred I’ve seen so many dentists oversell by overtaking. It’s tragic.
    I free with you whole heartedly. The best dentists present their information and then STOP talking.

    So many sales are undone by dentists who keep on talking and “buying it back”. That’s a NO NO!

    And it’s costing them money! That’s the sad part!

    Great Blog BTW!

  2. Well stated, Fred! We, as clinicians, compete for the patient’s disposable dollar, but have minimal business training! If we truly believed in the value of our treatment proposals and the benefits they would bring to our patients, we’d never interrupt our presentations before they patients could respond one way or another! Thanks much, for a valuable lesson in case presentation!

    • Thanks, Wayne. It’s very powerful to stop and listen to what the patient is thinking, and what their priorities are. Many dentists are uncomfortable using techniques of persuasion in case presentation, but the reality is you’re mostly likely helping the patient to get healthy in spite of themselves. A worthy effort.

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