Some of the aptitudes required to be a good receptionist can be taught and learned, whereas other are innate. Soft skills, which make a huge contribution to the quality of reception services, cover a wide range of qualities such as personality traits, social graces, use of language, personal habits, friendliness and optimism. These virtues are primarily instinctive, but can be cultivated and developed. The ideal receptionist commands a particular blend of hard skills (the technical requirements of the job) and these soft skills.
Although formal qualifications for dental receptionists are in fairly short supply, there is a growing trend towards the development of training in this area. In some cases when a receptionist has excellent soft skills, the fact that their practical aptitudes are not as strong can be overlooked.
This can happen when receptionists have a high level of Emotional Intelligence (known as either EI or EQ), which measures an individual’s awareness of their environment and the needs of others, unlike IQ, which is a measure of intelligence and reasoning ability.
Individuals blessed with a high IQ and EQ are very fortunate, as too are those that live and work with them. Most of us will favour one or the other. Some of the most popular receptionists I have met have a high EQ, and feel that the active cultivation of EQ competences should be central to receptionist training.
One of these competences is ‘empathy’ – the ability to tune into other people. Receptionists need to hear and understand accurately a wide range of verbal and non-verbal communications, even when unspoken or partly expressed.
People with empathy pick up emotional cues, they can appreciate not only what people are saying, but also why they are saying it. This competency includes a measure of cross-cultural sensitivity. This can be observed by the ability to read people’s moods, respect and relate well to those from other backgrounds and listen attentively to others.
Another EQ quality is ‘organisational awareness’, the ability to understand the power relationship and political forces in groups of people. This involves identifying the real decision makers and who can influence them, as well as recognising how group values and cultures affect the way people behave.
A third key area, ‘service orientation’, is the desire to help or serve others in order to meet their needs. This means focusing your efforts upon people, not just reacting to their requests but also being proactive in knowing what their needs are before they are articulated. This can be measured by the extent to which one is attuned to providing satisfaction to others, and their ability to match their own efforts to the requirements of others.
When it comes to dental teams working successfully together, it is essential that soft skills are used to support hard skills and that each member of the team is valued for whichever of those two they contribute.