Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

A boardroom full of dentists

Some years back, I was invited to run some negotiation skills training for the remuneration committee of the British Dental Association (BDA). Now, like many people, the word dentist has somewhat negative associations for me. I still shudder to this day recalling Mr Kocins, my childhood dentist glaring down at me as I sat, quaking in the chair and him saying in his broad Latvian accent “Zis will not huuurt”.  And  thence proceeding to hurt me. The dentist played by Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man very much reminded me of Mr Kocins.

Given this association, my first reaction at news of the training job was to feel nervous. It was irrational – I’d worked with people at all levels, from all kinds of professions in the past yet I was afraid of the pain of messing up or being wrongfully judged as being below par. Perhaps I was also afraid that I’d be strapped to a chair and they’d do a “Kocins” on me.

I arrived at the BDA headquarters in London’s  Wimpole Street on the appointed day. The session was due to start at 10am. I was ushered into an oak panelled ante-room where I was to wait to be summoned – this was definitely the kind of environment where one was “ushered” and “summoned”.

10am came and went. The minutes ticked by and, with every one of those minutes I became increasingly nervous. Crazy. I then reminded myself of something my partner had said to me before I left that morning: “Chris, they know all about teeth, you know all about negotiation”. Recalling that finally helped me settle.

Eventually, at about 10.40, the big heavy door to the boardroom  opened and a silver haired, stern looking man in a black suit came out to greet me: “Mr Markiewicz? Apologies for the delay, our previous meeting over-ran. Follow me please” and I was duly allowed across the threshold  into the boardroom.

The space reaked of formality. The walls were festooned with imposing portraits of what I assumed to be eminent drillers n fillers from times past – many with the hint of a sadistic smile on their faces (or was that my imagination?). The huge polished boardroom table dominated the room and, stood at one end of it were seven more stern looking, silver haired men in black suits having coffee.

As  I approached to greet them, the following words just spilled out of my mouth. (To this day, I don’t know quite what possessed me):

 “Good morning, gentlemen, I have to say, it’s nerve-wracking having to wait 40 minutes to see one dentist, but waiting for eight of them is absolutely excruciating”.

Stunned silence…….

…….followed, a second later by hoots of laughter and eight, much less stern looking silver haired men in black suits eagerly poised for the training.

Dentists are human after all.

The session went swimmingly. They knew about teeth and by the end of the morning they also knew a little more about negotiation.

Funnily enough, my fear of dentists has all but disappeared – the prospect of pain doesn’t bother me any more, probably because the fee is more scary! Perhaps I need to apply some of the negotiation principles I covered with the Wimpole Street gang (or whatever the collective term is) to my own dentist. Watch out Dr Saeed, you may know about teeth, but I’ve just reminded myself that I know about negotiation!  “Just relax Dr Saeed, zis will not huuurt!”

PS: here is a link to an amusing oldie but goldie video about how to negotiate with your dentist.       


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One Response to “A boardroom full of dentists”

  1. I enjoyed your anecdote. Next time I feel nervous before my negotiation training workshop starts, I will remind myself that “they know about x, you know about negotiation.”
    Negotiation Fox – a/k/a Nancy James Fox

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