Barry Oulton: More Than Just words

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The Confident Dentist Founder Barry Oulton talks about communication

The Future of Dentistry was the theme this year at Henry Schein’s Dental Innovation Symposium in London, the new home for the award-winning Digital Symposium and Good to Great Event. Digital technology took centre stage during the packed two-day event, but at least one of the speakers focused on the fact that patients are people first, and dental issues second.

Barry Oulton is a dentist with a passion for language, for getting the message across clearly, and, he says, it’s not just about using the right words. But first the founder of The Confident Dentist Academy – and master hypnotherapist – briefly examined the theme for the next two days and declared: “Change is inevitable.” He continues:

Change? It’s coming. The new NHS contract in 2020 will affect everyone; we will see an increase in private practice; practices will need to evolve their marketing strategies; UK dentistry will rely more on corporate growth; digital dentistry must be embraced or the practitioner will be left behind; and practice management systems will help cut the Gordian Knot of regulation.

Regulation, meeting NHS targets, the possibility of patient complaints and rising litigation are fuelling a stress crisis in the profession. A recent survey ( showed that 43.8% of dentists said they could not cope with the stress of the job, over 70% worried about the threat of litigation and a shocking 17.6% had considered suicide.

There is clearly the need for a movement to support those in need. When almost one in five of our dental colleagues is thinking about taking their lives rather than face the future, we have to address the situation. And it’s not something to be ashamed about – everybody at some time will be touched by mental health issues. But, to a degree, we can help ourselves.

NLP Communication

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) deals with the communication process behind the construction of the mind’s interpretation of data. When translating external information through the five senses the mind/brain filters it through an internal representation – which means any interpretation is coloured by your state of mind, your emotional condition, and your physiology.

Dentists spend their working day in a depressed physiological stance. A depressed person sits folded forward, shoulders drooping, head down. Compare this with a dentist concentrating on a patient, now consider the image of a stressed-out man or woman; the pose is almost identical. Taking this depressed stance actively alters the chemical balance of your body, and not in a good way.

What happens is that your body language shapes who you are, as your physiology drives the way you feel. This depressed stance promotes an increase in the hormone cortisol and a decrease in endorphins. I recommend Amy Cuddy’s TED talk ‘Your body language shapes who you are’ for a more scientific explanation, but the science is proven. To hear her go to:

A healthier, more positive future starts with finding a more positive physiological stance. May I introduce you to A R M U P? As a beginning try standing with your arms up and stretch, copy the Rocky at the top of the steps posture from the movie. Bounce on your toes like a champion, pose like a winner, stretch. It will change your chemical balance for the better.

Think of a problem

Now, think of a problem. We need to remodel the way you look at that problem. Try thinking of it as a challenge. Instead of a ‘drag on the day that won’t go away’ a challenge is something to be tackled. A challenge can be rewarding, it has an end point. A challenge overcome, the task accomplished, is a positive thing... but, why not go one step further? What improves on a challenge?

Surely a challenge is an opportunity to change something for the better? An opportunity means hope, it acts as a gateway to creating a better situation; improved relationships at home or at work, better working conditions. In changing the ways in which we approach a problem by thinking of it as an opportunity we change our mental state for the better. And there’s more...

We return to communication skills. To improve our communication skills and help improve your patients’ journey through the practice – after all we want them to come back and we want them telling people how great we are – we need to be world class. So, must we use better words? Not necessarily.

Astonishingly, the words we use account for just 7% of the perceived message; how we say it, our tonality, makes up 38%. Angrily growling, “You look great,” at a loved one will not be perceived as a compliment. And our body language, posture etc., makes up the other 55%. This even works when speaking on the phone. But texting has no personality; ‘lol’ could hide tears behind the screen.

A R M U P revisited

Sharing a message? Time to use our Rocky pose as an acronym:

A: Attention of Focus. Don’t let your mind wander from where you are and what you want to say. Take a look at to discover more about this subject. A distracted speaker will not hold the listener’s attention.

R: Rapport. Caring and sharing isn’t about sympathy, it’s about empathy. The listener needs to feel you understand the situation – and them.

M: Meta Programs. People have personality preferences when listening to someone. If you don’t meet their criteria (for example, ‘Hygiene’, which in this context means: do they believe you know what you’re talking about?) they won’t listen. And you might be going into too much detail for some (keep it specific and brief) while being too sketchy for others (I want to know everything in detail)?

U: Understanding Models of Communication. Sender – Channel – Receiver, this is a fascinating subject worth studying in more depth, but in brief it comes down to what message is being sent, how it is being transmitted, and what is being received. See, Miscommunication.

P. Patterns of language. Used properly language can weave magic and influence the listener. Great songs do this, sometimes the words say very little, but the music carries the message. What you say, how you say it, getting across what you mean, is largely about tonality and body language.

And finally – Miscommunication

There are four areas where we get the message tangled in static, lost in translation:

• What you said (what you think you said)

• What you mean

• What your listener heard

• What your listener thought you said.

You know what you said, but your receiver might construe your meaning based on those all-important NLP filters. You might be angry, bored or depressed and they can hear it in your voice. They might be angry, bored or depressed and that colours the way they hear you. Using the right patterns of language can clarify the message, and that depends on body language and tonality.

In the final analysis, correct communication is not only essential for gaining informed consent but is also part of creating an attractive patient journey. Every time we talk to our patients, we should be influencing smiles, and that will help us attract and acquire more patients. In conclusion, using the right words correctly will benefit both you and your patient.

This article just skimmed the surface of Barry Oulton’s talk.

For more information about him and The Confident Dentist Academy, visit