I won’t lie; I have a hard time having a conversation with my clients. It’s not that I don’t like people; it’s two fold 1) like will be said in this video, I don’t want to step on any figurative (or literal for that matter) patient toes nor 2) I’m a listener, not a talker by nature. That trait I think makes me exceptional at providing care, but not at exuding care.
So not only for myself, but every other human being out there, here’s a video on the lost art of conversation making. Which I believe is a vital customer service piece of the client puzzle that we therapists can provide that many other medical professionals can’t and don’t.
In summary on the client experience…
1) Don’t multitask. I know, I know I do it too. I document while I treat. It’s most necessary many days to stay on top of the stupid mounds of paperwork we’re required to complete to get paid by this insurance provider and that one. BUT, hear me out, I challenge you to visibly listen to your client at least once every session. Don’t just stop typing, but also turn your body toward the client and ask engaging questions about what they’re saying.
2) Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. Every client you see has a least a small nugget of knowledge they could share with you, if only you guide the conversation to the right place. EVERYONE from the bank president and corporation CEO to the janitor and housewife. Not only do they have that nugget, they would love the opportunity to share it with you and showcase their own expertise while you are doing the same with their care.
3) Use open ended questions. This is history taking 101. Always use open ended questions no matter if your taking history or making conversations. Although, you do need to develop some skills at molding the ends of these conversations as well, because some clients love to talk and will do so forever if you let them!
4) Allow extraneous thoughts to come and flow away. It’s happened a million times: the chronic pain client is describing their horrible, pain RIGHT HERE (points) in excruciating detail for the 200th time this session or something similar. Suddenly, I remember that I need to pick up milk on the way home. Write that thought or any others that float across your mind down, so you don’t forget. At the same time, it won’t be at the forefront of your mind nagging. That way you can listen and not miss something important from the client, like that they forgot to mention that this pain started when they fell in the bathroom or that they’re also not sleeping well and have night sweats.
5) If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Most people think they’re pretty smart. People who freely admit they don’t know something are a breath of fresh air, in my opinion. If the topic is a point in patient care though, follow-up that statement with “I can certainly find out an answer for you though and get back to you with that answer as soon as I have it.” Customer service 101 there. This is also a matter of legality. There are plenty of topics of a client’s care that come up that I have no legal right to know the answer to with my credentials. This typically comes up in the form of medication questions for me. Funnel those questions to the medical team or better yet, to a pharmacist, or whatever discipline best suits the particular question.
6) Conversations are not a promotional opportunity. The client is there to receive a service for themselves, not to talk about you. They are already in the door and paying you, so theirs no need. It’s just annoying.
7) Don’t repeat yourself. Although in regular conversation this is a good one, I would say DO repeat yourself in therapeutic care. In fact, it is a principle of neurologic care. The more repetitions you get, whether it’s an exercise or an educational instruction, the more likely the client will recall and actually use what you’re telling them. BUT there are some limits: like cognitive status. If you’re client is cognitively with it, maybe once or twice is enough. The not with folk will need much more repetition than that.
8) Forget the details, no one cares. Going back to those educational sessions. I love anatomy and physiology. And I love teaching it to others so anyone can have a handle on how their body works. BUT great care is required here. I can easily go into microscopic detail with my clients on how a muscle contraction happens, but they don’t care. They generally want the big picture, so that’s usually where I stick unless they ask for specifics. Or I have a student with me who needs to have the microscopic details reviewed, then I’ll do both! I find word pictures or visual aides help not only me, but Joe Schmoe Public to understand complex ideas best. Like using the aVOR app to explain vestibular things.
9) Listen with intent to understand. I’ve been guilty of this: listening until I find a point to ask a BRILLIANT question on, and then stop listening. You miss half the conversation that way!
10) Be prepared to be amazed. Every person you converse with is unique and wants to share their uniqueness with you. Let them!