The how and why of great patient communication

How ironic that good communication should be so vital in an industry where most of the time the customers are prevented from talking!

Encouraging and developing excellent practice/patient communication is what I do and I’m always on the look-out for new techniques to introduce.

A potential bag full of them came my way recently through meeting Joanna Taylor. We sort of knew each other through social media and initially used Twitter to explore whether there might be a bit of synergy between us.

With the signs looking good and after discovering a mutual interest in dogs and horses, we decided to meet up. Joanna, I should explain, is a clinical hypnotherapist and an NLP Master Practitioner.

These are the sort of titles (I must confess) which I’ve long been intrigued by but have never been completely sure what they mean.

My degree is in chemistry – I’m at the pragmatic scientist end of the thinking spectrum. NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming BTW (and BTW stands for by the way, by the way).

Joanna took me through the key points of her first module of one the courses she runs as Joanna Taylor & Associates.

The course is called An Introduction to NLP and module one is entitled Rapport & Communication Skills.

I’m not about to summarise a one-day course here but I will (with Joanna’s permission) take a couple of quotes from it:

Perception is Projection – we project our perceptions onto others, so what you see outside you is really you.
Rapport is the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a climate of trust and understanding at an unconscious level.

These triggered full illumination in a few light bulbs that had been metaphorically flickering in my head.

Effectively, I’ve been advising dental team what works well in terms of communication without explaining the why. With Joanna’s input I can now square the circle, so to speak.

Limited space means I can only give you a simplistic example here.

When a patient enters the practice, I advise front-of-house staff to smile and offer a chatty greeting such as: ‘Good morning Mrs Goss. Looking at those dark clouds, I think you’ve arrived just ahead of a downpour.’

Sometimes, patients will not reciprocate in a friendly manner and this can leave a receptionist perplexed. This is where knowing that Perception is Projection is useful. NLP says in order to understand other people, we attempt to apply meaning to their actions, their behaviours and their communications – according to our own model. If we can see the world as others see it (according to their model), better inter-personal communication will take place.

In other words, don’t mentally label a patient as grumpy if they don’t respond to a friendly introduction. Consider instead that they may be nervous, flustered, upset, tired, angry or may be viewing their world through any number of other emotions.

As well as providing an explanation for other people’s behaviour and actions, NLP teaches us how to recognise the signs and indicators and to react accordingly – this is where Sensory Acuity (becoming aware of another person’s unconscious responses by noticing minute physiological changes) comes in. And that leads to Rapport…

Joanna and I are having further discussions and will be working on ways to blend our knowledge and expertise for the benefit of dental practice staff. It may well be applicable to clinical staff as well. After all, if you have your fingers in someone’s mouth recognising that breathing patterns, the eyes and the size of the lower lip are also aspects of communication could be a good thing.

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