You’ve likely been a part of a practice management and/or marketing presentation discussing how to build a rapport with your patient base.
The first time I had given any attention to rapport was in graduate school and understanding the communication theory presented by Dr. Debra Tannen, a professor at Georgetown University and focuses on a term called: genderlects.
Ultimately Dr. Tannen describes how males tend to communicate with report talk (transactional and without the need to share anything other than information for the sake of gathering and giving information) and females communicate with rapport talk (sharing information with the additional verbal and non-verbal messaging expressing emotion and/or social/interpersonal connection). I’m not intending this article to be polarizing in any way, but I do think it’s worth paying attention to given the majority of the podiatric profession is male.
This also does not mean that all males speak in report talk and all females speak in rapport talk; nor does it mean that either is incapable of utilizing one or the other.
One of the reasons I am sharing my thoughts on this is because I have found the “build a rapport” statement to be thrown around a little too loosely; because it isn’t just about spending time with your patients; it truly is about having self awareness to recognize the way you communicate – which is not just about the words you are saying, but how you are saying them, as well as the way you are listening.
As a physician, you are surrounded by patients every day and it wouldn’t be surprising, nor at any fault of your own, if you were to develop some desensitization toward the vulnerability of patients. Every patient that steps into your office is in a vulnerable environment. They are being examined, questioned, and touched. In what world has anyone said, “you know what my favorite situation is? One that I feel extremely exposed and uncomfortable.”
When physicians engage in report communication, the connection and the and the patient satisfaction may not be as elevated if rapport talk was employed instead, because these feelings of vulnerability and interpersonal discomfort would be lessened.
Hint: It rhymes with “whales.
Strangely, this topic came to mind as I was watching a documentary a couple of weeks ago called, “The Vow.” If you haven’t seen it – whoa! It’s not something I’m going to get into here, but in a nutshell it’s another guy who creates a business but it’s really just a dangerous, manipulative cult.
Speaking of cult, another “icky” word needs to be addressed: sales; because the point of this article is to shed some light on how we can use rapport talk and mirroring to increase both the comfort of your patients, but to also increase the dollars coming into your practice.
For some reason, the concept of persuasion has a stigma attached to it as if it is always unethical or a sinister reason to use persuasion; as if you are using manipulation to get them to do something they don’t want to do.
That’s not the case here. There are elements of persuasion that need to be employed with patients, especially when it comes to ensuring they are compliant or if the product/service you are offering is a cash service. Obviously, this is not to encourage manipulating patients into purchasing or opting into products and services that they don’t really need. There is a big difference!
I’m going to circle back to the point of inspiration for this article – the documentary. In fact, I have provided the clip where Nancy (the business partner of business/cult leader, Keith Raniere) articulates this concept and breaks down why mirroring works.
While the use of mirroring in this circumstance is highly unethical, it can be used with your practice as a highly effective non-verbal strategy to increase sales and buy-in to cash services.
The first step is knowing how you communicate. Ironically right before I saw this episode of The Vow, a client of mine asked me if I was an extrovert or an introvert. I told him, I actually think I’m an introvert, but nobody would know that because I’m naturally very good at mirroring others. So when I’m in a social situation, my mirroring skills kick in and it appears that I am an extrovert.
If you can become self aware of your communication style and reflect on your patient interactions, you can start to consciously mirror; if you make a habit of mirroring, it will become like muscle memory and you will employ it subconsciously.
So if a patient leans in, you lean in; or if somebody is a little standoffish, give them some space. You are creating an environment where your patients they feel safe, where they feel seen, and they don’t even realize you’re establishing a subconscious connection.
Bottom line – when your patients feel connected, they feel trust; and ultimately patients who trust you are more inclined to adhere to the protocols you prescribe.
Thoughts? Questions? Email Me!
-Sarah Breymeier: