So simple. So powerful.
When I first met my new patient, Margaret, I felt a strong emotional connection immediately. I liked her. She needed exactly what I knew I could provide.
I carefully listened actively to what she had to say. She had had a difficult time with dentistry for her whole life. She was ashamed of her teeth and frightened. Her smile was a betrayal to who she really was.
I repeated back to her what I thought she had said. Her face took on a confused, disconnected look. I was bewildered. I thought my rapport building was going so well. Her words seemed to indicate agreement. Her body language did not agree. Now what?!
Were you ever taught active listening? This was a technique originated from Carl Rodgers and taught in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Active listening has become the supposed standard for listening to others in many circles.
It is better than not paying attention. It is a form of listening. The problem is that the context of the words used by the speaker is different than the context of the listener. The context is composed of the life experience, understandings, feelings, thoughts, opinions and lessons learned by the speaker. The language used by the speaker is a reflection of this context.
In active listening, the listener is supposed to repeat back to the speaker what the listener has interpreted that the speaker has said. This is better than nothing. It just misses the mark so to speak. The context of the listener is always different than the speaker. It can’t be anything else but this.
Why? Words do have meaning common to all at a logical level. The emotional context of the speaker’s words is unique to her based on her life experience, mental filters, perceptions, beliefs and values.
The emotional background conveyed by the words cannot be experienced or felt or interpreted the same. The best you could hope for is achieving a similar (not the same) emotional context by using your interpretation. This is almost good enough.
Why is this important to you?
Here’s why: because, you want to communicate to your patient in the most effective way possible. When you speak in the language of your patient you are effectively tapping into the emotional, feelings context that is meaningful and impactful for your patient. What words resonate best within a patient? The words a patient has already used.
The easy, foolproof method of doing this is to use the exact same words used by your patient. This isn’t almost the same words. It is the exact same words. Verbatim.
Doing this is like pushing a button mentally that tells her that you understand her. Then you can tell your story, give your findings and find influence to be a lot simpler.
Write down what she tells you exactly as she describes her problem and what she wants to do about it. Put the words in quotes in your notes. Use those same words to begin your prescription for care.
I repeated back to Margaret her exact words she had used to describe her condition and what she wanted. I agreed with her that it was a bad and difficult situation (her words). She brightened up, her body language changed. I knew I had hit upon the right way to talk to her.
Margaret turned into a successful patient relationship. She had extensive reconstruction and is today one of my most satisfying cases.
All of this occurred because of saying the right thing. She told me what the right thing was as I asked her the probing questions and then used verbatim listening. A direct hint: this works with more than just patients.
Who do you know that you would like to establish a better or strengthened relationship with? How will you use verbatim listening with patients? How can you use this with your staff?