Hard won soft skills

03 December 2021
3 min read

Dental clinicians – like many people in technical, medical, and scientific careers – can fall into undervaluing so-called soft skills. During education, emphasis is often placed on the more formally challenging skills, on technical ability and knowledge. However, soft skills are invaluable across all careers and to dentists this applies more than most. A surgical prodigy who cannot articulate their treatment plan in a clear and convincing way, creates uncertainty and doubt in the minds of patients and colleagues, leading to inefficiency – regardless of their acumen.

What do we mean when we say soft skills? These encompass a broad range of capabilities that include people skills, communication and social skills, as well as what may be considered productive attributes such as creative thinking and problem solving.

In part, soft skills have probably been under-emphasised in formal education due to the relative difficulty in evaluating them. It is hard to devise a test that can measure these more social and adaptive skills compared to areas with objective answers. This state of affairs also likely owes to an unspoken belief that soft skills are things that should be picked up automatically. Whilst they do come easier to some than others, these are learned skills that require knowledge and practice.

If you still think that soft skills sound a bit woolly, it may surprise you to learn that the term originated with the United States Army – an institution not often accused of being overly sentimental. The US military divided skills between hard (those requiring content expertise, such as using a specific technology) and soft, which was anything pertaining to managing people and preparing reports. The latter were indisputably essential to effective leadership and the day-to-day functioning of the military, so much so that a 1972 military conference concluded that no distinction should be made between the two and the term soft skills should be retired.[1] Of course, it is now almost fifty years later and yet the dichotomy has persisted.

Soft skills go further than communication, they can encompass aspects we consider to be attitudes and dispositions. A flexible mindset more readily adapts to challenges and problems; a resilient disposition grants endurance and can help you keep clear headed; empathy greatly benefits communication and interpersonal relationships; and so on. These ways of thinking are not innate and immutable, they can be learned and honed.[2] Learning to listen and absorb others’ experiences can help develop greater empathy. Mental flexibility can start from something as simple as knowing when to pause and consider if there is an alternative or something else you need to think about. These things may sound simple, but it is easy to get caught up in the flow of work and not mentally calibrate in the most optimal way for the task at hand.

These skills are the lifeblood of any enterprise, including the modern dental practice. Promoting treatments requires insight not only into how they work and what they achieve, but how to relate all this to patients. Effective communication is essential to working optimally with colleagues, and emotional intelligence can help manage and mitigate problems before they escalate and contribute to burnout. Developing soft skills has been reported to increase confidence and professionalism, as well as co-ordination and a more optimistic outlook.[3]

There are many ways to improve your soft skills, but central to doing so is regularly and honestly evaluating yourself. Review your interactions with patients and colleagues, to see if there is room for improvement. Whilst general soft skills are always a boon, dentistry has its unique aspects and many of these will be picked up through trial and error as you work. Finding a good mentor can also be invaluable and save you a lot of time and missteps.

Ucer Education is at the forefront of postgraduate education in implantology in the UK, led by Specialist Oral Surgeon and experienced mentor, Professor Cemal Ucer. Ucer Education’s postgraduate certificate (PGCert) in implant dentistry (EduQual Level 7) – is an excellent opportunity for clinicians looking to advance their skills. The course gives you an impeccable grounding in technical competencies and knowledge, including different implant systems and their provision, successfully leveraging a fully digital workflow including CBCT scans and 3D treatment planning and printing, and much more. You will also receive invaluable insight into key soft skills, such as how to promote implant therapy and effectively communicate treatment plans to patients and colleagues.

Dentists must wear many hats, a solid core of soft skills are essential to patient treatment, practice management and professional relationships. Soft skills are in high demand and enhance many aspects of your working performance and relationships, leaving them underdeveloped is unwise to say the least. They are a skill set that you can continually work on throughout your career and life that will serve you well no matter where your career takes you.

For more information on the PG Cert in Implant Dentistry from Ucer Education – supported by Geistlich, Megagen, Neoss, Implants and General Medical – please visit www.ucer.education and ucer-clinic.dental or call Professor Ucer on 07767 645331 or email ucer@oral-implants.com

[1] Parlamis J., Monnot M. Getting to the core: putting an end to the term “soft skills”. Journal of Management Inquiry. 2019; 28(2): 225-227. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1056492618818023 October 14, 2021.

[2] Claxton G., Costa A., Kallick B. Hard thinking about soft skills. Educational Leadership. 2016; 73(6): 60-64. https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/hard-thinking-about-soft-skills October 14, 2021.

[3] Dalaya M., Ishaquddin S., Ghadage M., Hatte G. An interesting review on soft skills and dental practice. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 2015; 9(3): 19-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413170/ October 14, 2021.