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It’s Not Only What You Say, But How You Say It

Posted By Christine Shupe, Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Empathetic communication can improve client interactions


You say, “Forward book annual preventive healthcare visits,” Staff says, “Clients won’t do it!”


Staff says, “Surgery!” Clients say, “Not in the budget!”


Although I may be guilty of hyperbole, these examples do underscore a point. When managers attempt to implement new policies and procedures or deliver difficult news, how you communicate matters and can make the difference between the intended recipient embracing or disregarding the message.


You can avoid the uphill battle of convincing others of your position if you meet them at their level, this includes listening and understanding where they are emotionally. At the core of a successful exchange is empathy.


Empathy is defined as: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner


Incorporating empathy into communication---into both how you listen and respond ensures that what you say will resonate with the listener and increase the likelihood that they will be receptive to the message.


Get off to a good start!


The starting point for all good communications begins with making a connection with the other party. In a practice setting, when speaking to staff and/or clients, eye contact and focus are important. Communication doesn’t have to be formal to work. In fact, if it is too formal and prescribed, it can be off-putting. The key is to be natural and engaged.




Good listeners are active listeners. They hear what is said, formulate a response and respond appropriately. For example, a client who objects to scheduling a pet’s wellness visit a year in advance because he hasn’t even thought about what he’s having for dinner, might reconsider upon hearing, “And that’s the great thing about forward booking, it’s one less thing to worry about!”


Move that body!


All-in listeners know that their body language speaks volumes. Distracted movements distract the speaker. Body movements in moderation convey care and empathy. A head nod or a pat on the shoulder can enhance communications.


Legitimize the feeling


Never criticize, disparage or express outrage at a client’s response. Professionals can accomplish more by acknowledging feelings and then proposing solution. If a client were to say, “I’m planning a cruise. I can’t afford to pay for Dot’s dental surgery,” he may be more amenable to treatment if feelings are recognized before options are proposed.  For example, “I know how essential vacations are and I know that you care about Dot. The practice does offer financing options that may make it possible to address Dot’s dental issues and enjoy a vacation!” Positive statements express a desire to help, thereby reducing the number of roadblocks they may throw in your path.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Although most people are born with it, to provide excellent client communication and patient care it is helpful to ways to enhance and improve it.


To review specific example of how to communicate effectively with clients, patients and staff in a variety of situations, view the videos at






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