I prize congruency. And I'm sure you do as well. People who are as they seem are far more likely to delight us or help us solve a problem than those who, Janus-like, show us one face and hide another.
That's why the converse is also true--I despise incongruency. Because with incongruency, we never know which is the mask and which is the face, do we?
When a patient says or does something challenging, bizarre, or combative, the manner in which we respond matters. And many of us learn to respond with professionalism and respect even as we remain firm. Listening, hearing a point of view different from our own, and creating a fair solution to one of life's many business challenges is a fine art, and one at which every successful dentist must learn to excel.
The true test of our character, however, is what we do when we walk out of the room, resolution in hand.
Over the years I have steeled myself to continue to say only things that I could readily say in front of the patient whose issue has just been resolved. Because there is nothing more embarassing, compromising, and destructive to a doctor-patient relationship than a vindictive word overheard.
Imagine the doctor who walks up to his or her staff at the front desk and mutters, "Whew! That was rough. Alright, credit the two-hundred eighty for the emergency pulpotomy off Mr. Wainwrong's bill. What an asshole. What does he think, that I wanna work for free? It'll keep the peace, though, since his wife needs two crowns."
That's The Mutter. And it's a surefire path to failure.
Even if Mr. Wainwrong is still back in "Room Five" busy flirting with our assistant Susie, and doesn't hear us, but an entirely different patient hears that mess--even if our staff hears it--we have diminished ourselves. And it should be obvious that diminishing oneself is not a strategy for success.
Blatant incongruency constantly gets politicians and media figures into trouble. In fact so many public figures are so busy diminishing themselves all the time that I'm half expecting them to all start vanishing into thin air sometime soon.
Except we wouldn't be that lucky.
Sure, I slip now and again, in small ways. We all do. But in the main I find myself dedicated to congruent behavior, so that people know the me they see in front of them is the me they'd see if they followed me around the office at random.
My mask is the same as my face.