A shift in your perception can make a big difference when you’re dealing with what you might term as difficult patients
EIGHTEEN MILLION HITS COME UP ON GOOGLE when you type in “dealing with training difficult people.” The reality is difficult patients appear to be multiplying. Your own tolerance of them is dwindling. Then there’s our environment, and traffic, and payroll, and politics, and on and on. It’s all taking a toll, and civility has become a casualty of the now-much-more-angry and argumentative culture in which we’re living.
But with one simple shift, we can make a difference. Stop seeing patients as difficult.
Can you stop seeing, and therefore labeling, patients as difficult? Some patients are difficult. Some of them fail to pay. Some of them show up late incessantly. What is difficult is the way we address them. What is difficult is how we reconcile in our head their choice of behavior, when it is so radically different from how we would have done it. But, different is not a synonym for difficult. Both are labels and in the brain, labels have great power.
We know the brain is wired to keep the body safe, and part of the way in which it does that is to serve as radar for all things dangerous. The challenge is your brain has a very wide scope of what is considered danger and attaches this label to anything that creates strong emotion. In other words, once you label a patient as difficult, this is how you treat them. You treat them as if they are someone who is difficult until repeated events cause you to question your assessment.
Lying to ourselves
It’s almost as if we lie to ourselves, but don’t mean to, and don’t know how to undo it. Yes, some patients can behave in a manner that is difficult, but to say that one person is always difficult — rather than acts difficult or in a manner different? That is quite another matter, but it is what happens.
The label we give to “Barbara,” who is always late, never calls to tell you, and demands to be seen upon arrival, throwing a fit when nobody bows because she finally showed up, despite her oh-so-busy schedule, is difficult. But what if Barbara is deeply insecure, way overwhelmed, has a special-needs child, and uses this one visit as her only way of self-care and getting out to feel good about herself? Reactions to that answer could vary, but what if at a minimum, Barbara is no longer difficult, but struggling? Would you treat her differently and encourage timeliness to future appointments in a different manner? Would you approach her with less impatience and indignance than you would if you thought she was just being difficult? The truth is we don’t know Barbara’s story.
Unless we know every detail and every nuance and every reason behind someone’s so-called difficult behavior, the label you assign to that patient may be inaccurate. It may be inaccurate, untrue, and a flat-out falsehood about the difficult nature of that person.
A new opportunity
This is where you have an opportunity to immediately become a more effective leader. Avoid the simple labels that create inaccurate bits of information, as your brain will take those as fact and resist future arguments with your own data. Avoid that conversation ever having to take place … in that space behind the eyes and between your ears. Lead those voices in your head more effectively. Actively discipline yourself to stop labeling people who act differently than you would as difficult. Choose another option or stay neutral.
The reality is some patients like firm pressure, some prefer soft. Some want to be called by name while some feel like they’re being called by their momma when your front desk team does it. Some want to chit-chat with you about wellness, some go straight from your office to McDonald’s. Okay. Such is the nature of a business that serves a variety of patients. Such is the nature of being someone who cares for a wide array of patients.
Heighten your awareness
Lead the voices in your head to see your patients for what they are: patients with differences. Lead those you have the privilege of leading to treat them as what they are: people with differences. And lead your business to do business with those who adhere to your guidelines (that alone might make some of those difficult people disappear), being grateful for those who do that with little or no extra effort.
We all have, at one time or another, been someone’s difficult person. We’ve all likely been called a difficult person, by someone who misunderstood our intent or shared a vastly different belief about the way an event or action should have happened. But when the world begins to see each person in it as a difficult person, that’s a much larger problem.
When did we all become difficult people? When did they all become difficult patients? Both happened when, quite simply, we forgot there were any other options.
MONICA WOFFORD, CSP, is a leadership consultant and coach, and the author of Make Difficult People Disappear. As CEO of Contagious Companies Inc., a leadership training and consulting firm, she works with all levels of leaders to develop their leadership skills. View her TEDx talk, “When Did We All Become Difficult People?”, and for more information on their training, coaching or consulting, go to ContagiousCompanies.com or call 866-382-0121.