Don’t Be Afraid to Be Vulnerable

Jackie Ulasewich


You know it’s important to make genuine connections with your patients, but how? Sure, you can find a common interest or hobby, learn their kids’ names, and talk sports with them. But is that enough to make your patients feel safe with you? Anyone can make small talk. That’s not a gift. It’s a social necessity. What truly makes a patient feel bonded to you is your own display of vulnerability. 

A Business Model That Works 

Last March, Entrepreneur magazine published an article called “Being Vulnerable Is the Boldest Act of Business Leadership.” Author Angela Kambouris calls vulnerability “a power tool in an emotionally intelligent leader’s toolkit” and goes on to explain the difference between oversharing your personal business and leveraging vulnerability to make genuine connections. Not only is it exhausting to pretend you’re impervious to emotions and errors, but the very fear of showing vulnerability prevents you from taking risks that could help your business thrive. 

An example of using vulnerability comes from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. In 2007, Starbucks saw the worst decline in its history. Schultz opened up to employees, letting them know that if changes were not made, Starbucks would cease to exist. This simple expression of vulnerability helped Schultz connect to his employees on a very real level. The loyalty this created allowed him to turn his company around with the support and help of the people who worked for him.

Flip the Script

Putting their healthcare in your hands is the most vulnerable thing that your patients do. They trust that you are properly educated, trust that you will treat them with dignity and compassion, and trust you with very sharp objects in their mouths. The least you can do is be vulnerable with them when appropriate. This is not to say that you should drone on and on about your personal life. A simple personal anecdote will work just fine: 

  • Have a patient who is pregnant? Share stories about your own (or your partner’s) pregnancy experiences.
  • Working on a pediatric patient who has a sports-related injury? Make them feel comfortable by telling them about the time that you chipped your tooth playing kickball with a basketball.
  • Consulting with a patient who hasn’t been to the dentist in 10 years because they are paralyzed by fear? Let them know that you used to have a fear of needles, dogs, fire extinguishers, or anything.

Don’t Forget to Listen 

The difference between demonstrating vulnerability and being self-indulgent is in the listening. Let your patients talk and let them respond when you share your fears, questions, and weaknesses. The same goes for your employees. If you’re closed off to their feelings, concerns, and feedback, they will shut down, which is the last thing you want from the people who play such an important role in your success.

Drop the Armor 

If you’re still hesitant to show your softer side, think about the iconic figures who have won the hearts of others by showing vulnerability. Walter Cronkite wept on air when he announced the passing of President John F. Kennedy. Former President George W. Bush cried at a Medal of Honor ceremony in 2007. Baseball player Lou Gehrig cried when his number was retired. No, you don’t need to shed tears to let people know you’re vulnerable. Just drop the armor every once in a while and let people see that you share their hopes, fears, and uncertainties.

With more than a decade of experience in corporate dental laboratory marketing and brand development, Ms. Ulasewich decided to take her passion for the dental business and marketing to the next level by founding My Dental Agency. Since starting her company, she and her team have helped a wide variety of business owners all over the nation focus their message, reach their target audience, and increase their sales through effective marketing campaigns. She can be reached at (800) 689-6434 or via email at

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