How to Stick Up for Yourself: A Guide for People-Pleasing Hygienists

By Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH on May, 20 2021
How to Stick Up for Yourself: A Guide for People-Pleasing Hygienists
Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH

Amanda is a passionate RDH obsessed with learning and making information accurate, accessible, and fun through writing, speaking, consulting, and podcasting.

We teach people how to treat us, whether we mean to or not. 

Many of us in the healthcare industry love helping others and making a difference. Oftentimes we will allow our desire to please others to trump our desire to even consider what we want or stand up for what we deserve.

For those of you who this comes naturally, good for you! Much of this won’t make sense to you. It will seem silly even, but for those of us who do struggle with this – that have an innate desire to have others like us, to make everyone happy – buckle up, and let’s dig into how to be a little more assertive.

Know Yourself
Not believing in yourself and understanding your innate worthiness can cause you to settle for less than you want or deserve.

Taking a personality test, like the DiSC or Enneagram, to understand who you are and why you do what you do can help you make sense of how and why you feel and react the way you do. It will help you get to the root of how and when to stand up for yourself. 

There are personality tests available online for free and more in-depth tests that you can pay for. Getting to know your why and what drives you can help you understand yourself and help you advocate for yourself! Until you know yourself, you can’t stick up for yourself. A more dominant personality or a bully can crush you in a second

Arm Yourself with Facts
I tend to get a little emotional when stressed. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve started to cry while on the phone with my cell phone company, insurance agent or anything confrontational. It’s just the way my body reacts. I hate that it makes me feel so vulnerable and over-emotional. I feel like I’m no longer an intelligent, confident adult but a little kid whose toy was just taken.

It helps to have the facts of my case laid out in front of me. For instance, if you're asking for a raise, take the time to figure out your production numbers, make a list of all the ways you contribute to the office or all the kudos you’ve gotten from patients. Whether you even say them, it’s great for you to reflect on all you bring to the table so you can feel a little more confident, fact-based and less emotional.

See the Other Side
If you simply proclaim the righteousness of your position without considering the other person’s wants, feelings, or perspective, you may be perceived as aggressive instead of assertive.  

This is an easy situation to get into if you’ve been holding back for a long time, and then all of a sudden, you go from doormat to opinionated. You could very well blindside your boss, friends or coworkers as you unleash your new confidence.

Take a minute to see the situation from their side. Keep in mind their position on the situation is their experience, which is just as sincere and heartfelt as yours. Perhaps you have an education that they do not, or maybe your history is causing you to react defensively.

Sincerely asking what the other person’s thoughts or feelings are about a situation can go a long way to understanding everything surrounding what and why something is happening.

Perhaps you’ve been working with dull and broken instruments for years, and now you’re ready to communicate your needs. Keep in mind this could be brand new information to your dentist. They might be completely unaware that you’ve been making do and are about to blow your top. While you see your needs as evident, they might simply be unaware.

Speak in the First-Person
Use I statements instead of you. When you go to get clarity on why the front desk keeps squeezing new patients into a prophy slot, begin with I. 

“Hey Susie, I was wondering why we keep ending up with new patients in a 45-minute prophy appointment?”

This allows Susie to tell you the doctor has told her to do it or let you know she doesn’t know the difference between the appointments. Then you are armed with the information you need to move forward. If you stormed up to the front desk and yelled, “Susie stop putting new patients in the prophy slot!” and then stormed back off, you lost the opportunity to get to the root of the issue.

Author Brene Brown talks about a technique she uses in her Ted Talk on Vulnerability that has resonated with me in all aspects of my life. She says, "If I could give men and women in relationships and leaders and parents one hack, I would give them, ‘the story I’m making up.' Basically, you're telling the other person your reading of the situation — and simultaneously admitting that you know it can't be 100% accurate."

This is how it works: “The story I’m making up is that when you leave your instruments in the ultrasonic, you’re saying that it’s my job to clean up after you.”

Brown says this is a life-saver for a few reasons: “It's honest, it's transparent and it's vulnerable.” It gives the other person a chance to respond with their perspective of the situation. It could very well be that when they were onboarded, someone told them to leave the instruments in there, or they may be unsure of the protocol and don’t want to look dumb asking. The entire situation that you’ve been stewing over could be solved in a matter of minutes.

Don’t Fight Every Fight
Not every battle needs a war. You need to find a sweet spot for what’s worth it and what’s not. If you decide to have a sit down with every little thing that you don’t like, or want to see changed, you’ll be perceived as nit-picky and maybe even the dreaded “nag.” Be sure that your issue is worth it, that you have a few suggestions to bring to the table and that you are willing to be part of the solution. Or consider leaving it be.

I once worked with a dental assistant that would ask me to take PAs for her all the time. It started to bug me after a while. I mean, why on Earth wasn’t she taking the X-rays on her patients? She was certified. But then I noticed that while I was taking the PA, she was cleaning up my room or processing instruments. And she was always there when I needed a perio chart. So while I could undoubtedly confront her about the PAs, I might be destroying a good flow we had established. So I chose to let it go.  

There is power in that choice. But you have to make peace with what you are letting go of. If you try and it’s just eating at you, then start back from the beginning and stick up for yourself. You are worth it!


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