Collaborating doesn’t always work for me…

The other day I was sitting in my dentist’s chair with a sore mouth. I have been back a few times since Christmas. Chasing pain in your mouth seems to be an inexact science. Have you had the cold test? If you have teeth like mine you face it with fear. Perhaps you should see a specialist, I heard. They can test you with dry ice, at -60 degrees! I don’t need any more encouragement to avoid that option.

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I have a collaborative dentist. It doesn’t always work for me. 

I have a collaborative dentist. You would think, given my vocation, this would please me. But as I sit in the chair with a sore mouth and hear that there is not a definitive solution, that I will not be told what to do, that I have a choice to demand a root canal, ignore it, see a specialist (or, presumably, yank it?) I just think YOU tell ME! YOU are the EXPERT.

So I get it when I look at my client and their eyes glaze over when I say – this is a collaborative process. You are part of the solution. I am here to help you define a solution that will work for YOU. It sounds pat, and frankly, a little too mystical.

I just need you to fix it. Damn it.

Collaboration is an inexact science. Research proves again and again that organizations which collaborate effectively are more profitable, have more engaged employees, are more efficient. But we have all experienced the frustration that ensues from apparently endless committee work and questions which never seem to lead to concrete solutions.
I think we get frustrated because we confuse cooperation with collaboration. We use the terms interchangeably, but I can be cooperative without being truly collaborative. If I cooperate with my dentist, I will not challenge him. I will work with him. I will make my decisions. I will listen to his advice, but I don’t bring any more knowledge or expertise to the table to help inform our interactions beyond my own pain experience. True collaboration requires a much bigger investment. I need to challenge his process, advocate for my own health, research tooth decay and consult with other dentists, returning at my next appointment with my own expertise.

Do we all need to be experts to collaborate? Perhaps not. But true collaboration is a resource intensive activity that requires serious questioning and exhaustive challenge and openness. To truly be collaborative with my dentist, I need to be confident in the belief of my own expertise around my oral health, and be prepared to challenge and advocate in his process as well as his method.

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