By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
How to practice your “empathetic listening” for better patient communications
Professionals need to be effective communicators, particularly when offering elective care options. Exceptional patient communications begin with careful listening skills that can be cultivated with daily practice.
For all the years we have been doing this, we have yet to meet a single professional who likes being a “salesman.”
However, when it comes to providing cash-based and/or elective services, someone (doctor or staff) needs to be able to communicate the value of their services or procedures.
Sometimes called case presentation, selling can more palatably be thought of as bringing a solution to a person with a need. We find that the most successful providers are comfortable with this “solution” definition. What’s more, they know how to build rapport, speak well and listen well.
The good news is these skills – much like clinical skills – an be learned and improved with practice. Eventually you can become extremely good at helping the patient get what he or she wants.
Empathetic listening or “listening for meaning” is a process that improves mutual understanding. This is an individual skill that deserves regular attention. At least half (if not more) of the successful case acceptance process is based on listening…and understanding what is being said and what meaning might be between the lines.
Look for these Buying Signals.
Success in offering elective services begins with relating the patient need to the service. Often they are open to a solution that helps them, and may be ready to accept professional treatment recommendations. Buying signals can be subtle, but also revealing. Common buying signals include:
- Being “possessive.” Comments with “I” or “my,” signal they are thinking about the outcome as if they already have them. It’s an expression of at least conditional acceptance.
- Repeating questions and asking for details. Questions signal interest or understanding. Repeating a question about a particular detail is probably something that’s important to their acceptance, and their looking for verification.
- Looking for validation. The individual may have decided, but they want agreement or encouragement from a spouse. Looking to a spouse or other “higher authority” can also mean deferring the decision, so consider including all concerned from the start.
- Sounds of affirmation or agreement. When someone adds a positive comment with feeling, they may have mentally taken ownership of the benefits.
- Asking about implementation steps. The length of time to complete or impact on their routine means they are thinking about the process steps. It’s a signal that they are judging the length of time until they enjoy the outcome.
- Comments, questions (or negotiation) about price. Generally this is a good signal, but they should hear and understand the value and benefits, not just the cost.
Know when to ask…
Of course, the most important buying signal is when the individual agrees to your recommendations. But surprisingly, many practitioners simply fail to ask.
The typical provider has hundreds of opportunities to work on and improve these interpersonal communications skills each week. Skills grow with repetition, and patients often want to discover a beneficial solution. Listen…and when the dialog signals a mutual understanding, ask for the commitment.