The Likeability Factor

by Andrew Abramowicz, DDS

Under normal circumstances I’d be writing about technology in the dental office, a broad field that is both fun and challenging and happens to be right up my alley. After seeing the “motivational” speaker, Tim Sanders, at a recent Toronto event, I wanted to find out more about what he called the L-Factor.1 L stands for Likeability. Essentially, likeable people get further in life. How does this relate to technology — it doesn’t; unless you take the time to turn off your cell phone, Blackberry, pager, and get away from your e-mail long enough to read this article.

At a time when we as dentists are all trying to stretch our expense dollars further, attract more new patients, have higher treatment acceptance, and make our offices run more efficiently through “people systems” and technology, who would have thought you could have such a huge impact just by being nice?

I had to think back to when we did our first human resources coaching sessions almost 10 years ago with Nancy Davis of Dental Dynamics Group (Ontario). We learned new and wonderful things about how to treat each other and our patients. While these things seemed like common sense, we weren’t doing them. Over time, it became the norm in our office to only allow adult, polite, and respectful behavior and to not allow negative and destructive behavior. This may seem obvious, but negative behaviors run rampant in dental offices, sometimes without anyone really noticing. Even if you do notice, it becomes something that we wish would just go away on its own. Simply put, unlikable behaviors produce negative environments. These sessions with Nancy resulted in a happier staff with fewer turnovers and more productive time spent while at work treating patients. Fortune magazine reports, “organizations with positive employee relationships produce 15 to 25% more productivity.” In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman found that in a study of hundreds of major companies, that a “positively charged work environment produces superior profits via reduced turnover and increased customer satisfaction.”

Jumping ahead a few years, a friend of mine, Peter Barry, a dental consultant who began his dental career as a dental hygienist, gave me a book by a famous dentist in Australia by the name of Patty Lund. His book examines the concept of a “happiness centered business.” There were positive rewards for positive behavior and negative rewards for negative behavior. All in all, his and many other businesses flourished when the staff was at its happiest. This is pretty important in light of a 2004 CNN study that found that only 43% of American workers were happy with their boss.

In hindsight, working with Nancy, talking with Peter, and reading these books seemed like fragmented events until I attended the aforementioned speaking engagement. Mr. Sanders discussed the many facets of the L-Factor. It is an important measurement of someone’s likeability and its affect on the people around them. As he posed questions and gave statistics on the effects of likeability, a light bulb went on in my head… the “ah-ha moment.”

As an owner of more than one dental office and a Canadian dental software company, I quickly “did the math” of how likeable our staff were to our patients in the dental office and our clients on the software side, and also how our most unlikable patients and unlikable clients got served by my staffs. Another “ah-ha moment.” Further, it appears that I could test my own likeability against my treatment presentations as a dentist to see my “success rate” in converting a treatment presentation into actual treatment. Looking back in time at my successes and failures, Tim Sanders is right. My treatment acceptance was greater when I was kind, understanding and appreciative of their confidence in me and my office, and lower when I was not as “nice.” It was also apparent that as I was nicer to my dental staff, they worked harder for me in helping to treat our patients. Everybody wins!

The opposite of this is of course are people who are not so likeable. They are usually made to wait longer for service, get poorer service, get less time with their physicians, spend less time with their kids and are generally miserable in life while wondering why everyone around them is trying to make them miserable or is charging them too much. Invariably, the unlikable people in our lives just can’t seem to “get ahead.”

Tim Sanders did not uncover a super secret mystery but simply put into words what we already know instinctively. Nice guys do not finish last.

As a perfect example, I remember sitting in the Halifax airport on a Sunday after a CDA convention waiting for our plane to leave. We were called to the departure desk only to be informed by our airline attendants that the flight had been “oversold” and that they were looking to bump 10 of us to the Monday 11:00 am flight. My eyes opened wide as I realized that both my wife and I both had patients the next morning at 7:30 am with three hygienists and a lot of recare appointments. I calmly explained that my wife and I were both dentists and that there were 50 people coming in the next day for dental appointments. The attendant asked us to take a seat near the desk and she would keep us informed as to what was happening. I thanked her politely and we took our seats in the lounge. Behind us, one after another, people began yelling at the attendant about how this was “unacceptable” and so on and so on. After a number of these tirades, the attendant looked at me, smiled, and called out our names. After that she made the announcement that the flight was now full. We were given our seat numbers and whisked down to the plane as it was takeoff time. As we walked towards the Jet Away tunnel, I looked back at the angry people behind me about to go into their next fit of rage. Two lessons — never expect to leave on time when using air travel but more importantly, BE NICE to the staff. It wasn’t the attendant’s fault that they were oversold. I didn’t realize the effect at the time, but simply being nice got us home on time in spite of their overselling strategies.

It is important for all of us to examine how we treat our staff, our patients and the vendors who serve us with products and or services. If we smile, it is contagious. I’ve even heard of “smiling through the phone.” People can hear if we are happy and friendly — or not. In the office setting, we must leave our “bad moods” at the door because when we arrive to start our day its “showtime.” Our attitudes count just as much as our clinical skills. By increasing our L Factor we will be more successful in treating our patients utilizing a happy and willing staff while enjoying the benefits of vendors who will work harder to serve us. In a day and age when running a dental office is getting more and more expensive, being nice has huge impact and best of all, it’s free. As a wise man once said, you really do catch more flies with honey.


1. Sanders, Tim, The Likeability Factor: How to boost your L-Factor and achieve your life’s dreams 1st Ed., New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.

Dr. Andrew Abramowicz is a practicing general dentist in Sutton, Ontario who founded the dental practice management software company LiveDDM with add on products Patient Gallery Imaging and LiveChart EDR www.liveddm. com. He is also responsible for co-founding