After many years of interacting with people in emergent situations, I have found phrases that have an almost magical ability to build rapport with patients and phrases that can destroy communication just as quickly. Here is my list of what you should and shouldn't be saying when it comes to patient communication.
FIVE MAGICAL PHRASES
Try using the following phrases and watch how much easier it becomes to avoid conflict and develop rapport with even the most difficult of patients.
"LET ME SEE IF I UNDERSTAND YOU CORRECTLY."
If you ever want someone's undivided attention, try repeating their own words back to them. Nothing frustrates people more than feeling misunderstood, disregarded or ignored. When you see your patient becoming agitated, try starting with this phrase. When you do, you send several important messages. You tell them that you are listening, and you show them that you care and that their input is important. You also confirm your own understanding of the situation and open the door for your patient to listen to you. When people feel that they are respected and understood, they are more likely to listen.
"I CAN SEE WHY YOU MIGHT FEEL THAT WAY."
This is the phrase of empathy. Empathy literally means to see through the eyes of the other and it is the most powerful tool in your communication arsenal. When you use this phrase, you remind yourself of what it means to be empathetic. Notice that you do not need to agree with someone, approve of their behavior or even like them to say this to them. All you are saying is that you can see why they might feel the way that they do. When you make this gesture, your unspoken message is that you have taken the time to see the situation through your patient's eyes.
"WHICH WOULD YOU PREFER?"
The more choices people are given, the more they feel in control of a situation. Whenever time permits we should ask our patient what their preference might be. It doesn't matter if we are asking about which hospital they would like to be transported to or which color slippers they would like to wear, when we take the time to ask, we send the message that we care.
It's important to note that the more control we take away from a person, the more we need to emphasize the options they do have. Even an uncooperative individual who has been restrained can make some decisions about their position of comfort, family notifications, etc. The more options we can give an individual, the more likely they will be to cooperate with those elements they are not in control of.
It's not appropriate to tell someone that we agree with them when we don't, however, we tend to rush by the points we do agree on without ever taking the time to acknowledge our agreement. It's as if we have a switch in our brain that says, "OK, we've agreed on this point, let's get on to the next one." Take those opportunities to acknowledge your agreement before moving on to the next point. Those are powerful moments in building a rapport, so don't miss out on an opportunity to look a person in the eyes, smile and say, "I'm glad we agree."
Everything we do is in the service of the patient, but let's face it, they don't always feel that way. When you sense that the patient is beginning to feel like we are imposing our will on them, try using phrases that end with "for you." For instance, instead of saying, "Sit down on this pram," you might say, "We've brought our pram to the door for you." "I'll lock the door," becomes, "I'm going to lock the door for you."
For you statements remind the patient that everything we are doing is meant to serve them. It's a gentle reminder to the patient that we are acting in their best interest. After a few "for you" statements, you may be surprised to find patients who were begrudgingly complying with your requests thanking you for your efforts.
FIVE WORDS AND PHRASES TO AVOID