As we transition from student to doctor, there are many changes and expectations that we embrace. From remembering and applying didactic knowledge, performing exam elements correctly, charting appropriately, and determining accurate diagnoses and treatments, there are an overwhelming number of factors to consider to be a good clinician. What staring at lecture slides doesn’t teach you is one of the most important aspects of being a great doctor – that is, having great people skills. Albert Mehrabian was a psychologist who conducted research in 1971 that is still relevant today in regards to patient encounters. He examined what individuals communicated and remembered most in a social interaction, listed here:
- body language: 55%
- tone of voice: 38%
- words: 7%
Body language optometry tip: Work quickly and move slowly
- Body language and facial expressions must communicate comfort. Oftentimes as new clinicians, we have an urgency to get as much done as soon as possible to meet our two hour exam limit, which can sometimes make us look rushed.
- It is important to control our body language as we interact with patients so that we don’t make them feel nervous or break rapport with them. Since some patients enjoy eye contact and others do not, get a quick read of the level of social comfort and eye contact your patient might be comfortable with. Just remember, more isn’t always better!
Tone of voice optometry tip: The bridge of your connective ability
- There are three types of tonality that can create a successful patient encounter: rapport-forming, neutral, and leading.
- Rapport-forming: This is most important for initial and final encounters and includes appropriate voice inflection, volume, and pacing. For starters, when you greet patients, approach them with a room-appropriate volume or even slightly louder (as you smile and make connective eye contact) to establish the start of a good conversation. As you head toward your exam room, consider talking to them as if you’re meeting a new friend, engaging in small talk on the way to initiate rapport-building. If you can incorporate this at the end of your encounter as well, mention something the patient shared with you and your patient will often leave feeling like they’ve been truly taken care of.
- Neutral: This is a good choice for relaying information to your scribe or attending doctor but should be avoided when talking to your patient. It communicates a mundane vibe and may even result in the use of medical jargon.
- Leading: This choice is great for educating the patient during and at the end of an exam. It should still have good voice inflection but with a slightly more serious note so that patients remember to follow your plan correctly. It may feel awkward and sometimes sound condescending, but it really isn’t. However, once the exam results are delivered you can always switch back to a rapport-forming tone to conclude your encounter.
- How can you prepare your voice to be heard? Fortunately, there is a YouTube Channel called the Charisma Matrix that discusses ways to get your voice warm and ready to be heard. Here is a summary of the advice of “Tonality checklist: A preparation guideline”:
- Mood and Energy: Ask yourself what your mood and energy is. If you aren’t feeling loose, find a place to jump around and yell for a few seconds to get your body and mind warmed up.
- Stress: Check your shoulders and face. Try to roll your shoulders around and relax your face. This will communicate to your subconscious mind to relax and be in control of your thoughts.
- Warm up your mind: Say words that you can associate with each other to place yourself in a frame of mind in which conversation comes easier. For example: Say, “red, stop sign, traffic, cars, minivan, family, free time, etc.”
- Prepare to be heard: Ask yourself if you are ready to be heard. Prepare a couple of things to say for small talk.
- Be mindful of the tone you will use next: Consider who your audience is and choose an appropriate tone of voice.
Words optometry tip: Not as important as you might think
- We have all been through tough classes and rigorous instruction to get to the point of seeing patients in clinic. We have the optometry knowledge, now we must focus on mastering our people skills.
A nice blend of optometric ability and people skills will make us more successful eye doctors by allowing us to emotionally connect with patients, while at the same time providing them with excellent eye care. A healthy balance is just what the doctor ordered.