In my recent radio interview with Jim Robinson, the executive director of a county medical society, Jim pointed out that while most people have great relationships with their doctors, there are a small minority of people who are so negative that you just can’t please them.
But as the founder of a patient satisfaction/doctor rating Web site, I like to be more optimistic. I think most conflict is the result of poor communication, and I’m sure that by showing our caring nature to other people, any person can be reached.
Joe Tye, CEO and Head Coach of Values Coach, Inc., described his positive approach to negative people in his weekly e-mail publication Spark Plug. I think he’s on to something very important. Joe Tye shared some valuable lessons about his positive approach to negative people:
- Recognize that other people’s apparently toxic negativity is always an outward projection of their inner pain. Joe talks about addressing this from the standpoint of managing employees and building their self-esteem, but it probably applies to all our relationships.
- Often, people try to ignore negativity. It is better to confront it constructively. Attitudes aren’t genetic, but they are habits. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but I agree that a positive response can help counter negativity.
- Create an environment that is positive, linking behaviors to values.
- Teach people practical skills for confronting negativity.
- Avoid some problems by depersonalizing them proactively.
- Set a positive example.
I’m not a perfect physician, and I’m certainly not a perfect communicator. But I am a caring doctor. I have patients who aren’t entirely happy with me at times. Getting defensive or arguing with these patients only exacerbates the problem. Discharging those patients to another practice certainly doesn’t help me achieve my goal of giving patients great medical care.
I’ve found that the most basic principle of patient satisfaction — that patients want a caring, empathetic doctor — helps avoid the “nuclear option” of severing a relationship with the patient. Admitting to the patient that things aren’t perfect, but that the doctor really is trying to help, can diffuse much of the anger. Reinforcing patients’ internal sense that they are right — and they are always right when it comes to knowing their satisfaction with their care — helps alleviate the internal issues that Joe Tye recognizes are the source of the negativity.
If this issue comes up for you, try this: “I know things didn’t go perfectly well today, but I am trying. I need your help. Please let me know what you thought could have gone better. You can tell me directly, or if you prefer to give me anonymous feedback, you can do it online at the DrScore.com Web site.”
It is amazing that some of the most unhappy patients can become some of the most devoted when they come to realize how much their doctors care about them.