Be the M.V.P. Using M.V.E.: The Imago Dialogue

Real-world insights from AADOM Author Shelly Otte

Talking with my teenage daughter can be challenging, even more so because of other underlying mental health conditions. She receives treatment for a variety of struggles including anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. While this journey has been difficult for the entire family, I have learned much about the art of conversation because of it.

Our communication with one another was not doing either of us any favors. In fact, we continued to engage in harmful dialogue, further damaging our relationship. Fortunately, her therapy team stepped in and opened our eyes and our minds to a new way of communicating.

They showed us that in order to change the direction and improve the quality of these conversations, one of us needed to step out of our “old way” of dancing and learn a new dance step to change the pattern. Enter in the Imago Dialogue.

Using the Imago Dialogue in managing a dental office

The Imago Dialogue is a unique three-step process for connection, developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. The essence of dialogue is any conversation in which people agree to listen to others without judgment, and accept their views as equally valid as their own.

What I found as I learned this “new dance step” is that it doesn’t only apply to communicating with my daughter, it applies to everyone.

I challenged myself to master this type of communication with my daughter and family and then transition those skills into managing the dental office. Presenting treatment plans, taking new patient phone calls, talking to team members… all of this and so much more can benefit by applying the Imago Dialogue.

And guess what? It works!

The first step in the Imago Dialogue is allowing each person to talk, one at a time. This is an exchange of “Sending” (the speaker) and “Receiving” (the listener). There is no cross-talking or interrupting in this style of communication. To focus on the “Receiving” party first is most critical, in my opinion. This is the step we can control.

In receiving, there are three main components: Mirroring, Validation, and Empathizing (M.V.E.).

Mirroring, Validation, and Empathizing (M.V.E.)


When the person speaking or sending their message pauses, this is the time you will Mirror what they have said and repeat back what you heard them say. Not to paraphrase, but to mirror back what they have said. This is not a time to critique, modify, or respond.

Examples of what this process sounds like are; “What I heard you say…”, “If I got it right…,” “I think you said…,” “So you’re saying…”

In a dental setting, if a team member says something like “I feel like the doctor thinks I’m terrible at my job!,” the receiver would say, “What I heard you say is that you feel doctor thinks you are terrible at your job. Did I get that right?” It’s key to ask if there is more to it, or if you heard the message correctly.


Once the “sender” states that there’s no more to say or that what you mirrored is correct, the “receiver” will attempt to validate the sender’s message. In validating, you want to make sure the sender knows you are making sense of what they are saying (this is different than agreeing to their message).

Examples of validating are, “That makes sense to me because…,” “That makes sense, I can see where you are coming from…,” etc. An example in a dental setting would be something along the lines of, “That makes sense to me because I understand you feel the doctor is not giving you praise for the work you are doing.” or, “That makes sense to me because I saw how (insert whatever the scenario might be).” Again, you are not agreeing necessarily, but you are stating that you understand why they would feel that way.

If you’re unable to complete this step of the M.V.E. model, be sure to ask for clarification from the sender.


In this final step, the receiver is taking all that they have learned thus far from the sender’s message and coming up with a summation of how the sender must feel.

Examples of empathizing include statements like, “I can imagine you might be feeling…,” “I imagine that must feel (insert feeling here)…,” etc. A dental setting example might be “I can imagine that must feel really discouraging or hurtful, is that how you feel?” Make sure to check back in with the sender to see if your statement feels accurate to them.

Once completed, and the sender feels good about being listened to and heard, the process continues with the receiver now becoming the sender and so on.

Benefits of the Imago Dialogue in dental management

This pattern is especially helpful in management. One of the biggest challenges a team member feels is the perception of not being heard. In this style of dialogue, that will not happen. When M.V.E. is practiced properly, all parties will feel heard, validated, and empathized with. That doesn’t mean that you always agree with what the team member or patient is saying, but rather that you have shown respect and care for their feelings and thought process.

Applying the M.V.E. technique has saved me time and frustration when communicating with my daughter, family, team, and patients. I am calmer and in control when using this dialogue and have felt the same from the person(s) I am speaking with.

I hope you find the time to practice this with yourself first, then with a trusted partner or friend. It will take practice and mindfulness. However, I have learned that when done correctly, it will save you time, frustration, and prevent you from stepping into those same “old dance” routines.


Meet the Author

Shelly Otte, FAADOMShelly Otte, FAADOM, has served as the Office Manager for Dr. Douglas Schulz (Corporate Lakes Dental) and Education Center Manager at Corporate Lakes Education Center. She was also the President of the Kansas City AADOM Chapter, which was recognized as 3rd Place Chapter of the Year at the 2018 AADOM Conference.

After moving to Monument, CO with her family, she excitedly joined the practice of Dr. Jeffrey Yelle (Mountain Wellness Dentistry) as his Practice Leader. Shelly is actively pursuing her MAADOM for September 2020! She is also a member of Speaker’s Consulting Network (SCN). Her goal in life is to make every day a little easier and happier for others.


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