Dealing with People

Dealing with People Isn’t Always Easy

This article is for all of you who work in healthcare practices, dealing with patients or clients of every type.  It isn’t always easy, is it?

People phone in or walk in to the practice and there you are at the front desk, no option to hide, not allowed to kick the person out or hang up on them, having to put your best game face on to try and deal with each personality type.  The same difficulties face the practitioner as well who might well prefer to be elsewhere than treating the person in front of them.

The only saving grace most days is that at least 80% of your clientele are anywhere from nice to great, leaving only 20% (1 out of 5) that require superhuman patience and special handling.

The question is:  What is the best way of dealing with the 1 out of 5?

The Problems

  1. Rude
  2. Angry or antagonistic
  3. Can’t understand them – they don’t talk, or they mumble, or have an extremely difficult to understand accent, or they have little English and you don’t speak their language
  4. Passive Aggressive – they try to make you feel like you did something wrong when you actually didn’t
  5. Elderly folks who are confused or have dementia
  6. Intoxicated
  7. Overprotective parents with the patient

Game Face (for 1, 2 and 4 above):

First thing to realize is that it is not what YOU are doing but what THEY are doing.  They are probably like this with everyone, not just you.  So don’t get tangled up in their mess or problem.  If you find yourself starting to steam up or react to what the patient or client is doing or saying, you need to mentally re-install your game face.

You could even say, “Please excuse me for one moment,” and walk away down the hall or somewhere else in the practice while you take a deep breath and say to yourself, “It’s NOT me, it’s him or her who has the problem; let’s see what I can do about it.”  Take two more big breaths and walk back to the reception desk with your game face back in place and calmly deal with the issue.

If they are loud or really troublesome, taking them to the consult room or an office or a treatment room to get them out of the public area and sitting down would be the first step.  Give them a quiet space to be able to calm down in and talk to you.

Next, try and understand exactly what the person’s problem is.  Very often just listening and being interested in what the upset or rude person is saying and acknowledging very thoroughly what they are communicating will diffuse the situation and bring it down to a solvable problem.

Translation Technology (for 3 above)

Canada has always been very multicultural and you may find people coming to see you that you can’t understand because of a very heavy accent, broken English or no English at all and you do not speak their own language.  If you have given it your best shot to really try and communicate and cannot, check if anyone else in the practice knows what they are saying.

There is also Google Translate that can be downloaded on cell phones where the person can speak in their own language and it will say back to you in English what they said.  Miracles of technology!

Care and Respect (for 5 above)

Patience is the watchword here.  Everyone gets old sooner or later and needs to be treated with respect and care.  This is becoming an epidemic with the huge glut of baby boomers hitting into their 70’s and their parents often still alive and also suffering from dementia, short term memory loss, and Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, most of them will be accompanied by a caregiver of some sort and you can get their help.  If not, you might suggest to them that they bring someone with them for their next visit.  You could also get their family doctor’s name and send a message to the doctor about what is occurring.

Re-appoint (for 6 above)

If the patient is clearly intoxicated or high on drugs, you should suggest that you make another appointment time for them to come back as you cannot do your best treatment on them at this time.  Don’t argue, be polite and be firm about this.

Consult (for 7 above)

Overprotective parents also require a lot of patience and special handling.  If possible, it might be best to take the parents into a private space in your office away from their child for a couple of minutes to talk about their worries and what it is they are concerned about.  Listening well, acknowledging thoroughly their concerns, and giving them assurance is obviously necessary.  Then ask them to assist in assuring their child that everything will be fine – this can help prevent them or stop them from freaking their child out.

In Summary

Be patient.  Show people respect.  And realize that 80% of your patients or clients are awesome and appreciate them!


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