Character profiles and patient communication

Many point out the importance of knowing the personality types of patients. The argument is that knowing the personality type makes it easier to adapt one's form of communication to suit the personality type of the patient. By adapting the way you communicate, the patient will feel more comfortable and understand what is being said. This increases the likelihood that the patient will accept the recommended treatment.


In this briefing we look at

  • Why personality types don't always give you an advantage.

  • A framework for good communication rather than scripts

  • The benefits of authentic communication

Patient profile

Keep it simple

There is nothing wrong with knowing the personality traits of patients. The challenge is just that patients don't come into dental practices wearing a red, yellow, blue or green jacket that clearly shows what personality they have. To find out the personality of the patient, we need to focus on the elements that can reveal the personality. This requires focus and as we humans are only able to focus on a few things at a time, we should consider where to put our focus. Especially in a dental practice with relatively many elements needing our focus to make the practice run smoothly.


That is why I think we should wait to study personality profiles until we have a completely different and much simpler framework in place. Secondly, I believe that even if we study personality profiles, we do not automatically become good at applying our knowledge. It takes a fairly sustained effort to implement our knowledge. So far, I have met very few dentists who have been good at paying attention to the personality profile of their patients. Although they are good at decoding signals that may reveal a personality profile, they rarely used these skills continuously.

Picture frame that frames part of a picture

All this does not mean that I think you should forget about personality profiles when working with patient communication. I just think you should make some conscious choices about where you apply your knowledge, so you don't have to go around spending unnecessary effort constantly thinking about other people's behaviour and your own.

It consumes too much focus. A focus that is needed in many other aspects of the process that should lead to an acceptance of the best possible treatment for our patients.


Checklists do not create friendships

In general, I'm not very fond of scripts.

It can be anything from scripts to how to talk to patients on the phone, at the reception desk, in the practice, at case presentations, presenting prices or when you want patients to commit to treatment.


Can you imagine using a script to make good friends. Just by following the script point by point?


No, right?


In my patient communication courses, I have 2 sentence structures that resemble a script. The models I use are not very difficult to learn. They are based on what we say to our patients every day, but structured in a way that gives our words the most influence. In a way, the models are only faintly similar to a script. However it still takes most participants a little time to get the hang of how to express themselves when using the models.


The fact is that we will sound fake if we don't use our own words.


Frameworks for success

Most dentists like the idea of a "to do list" that just needs to be followed to be successful in patient communication. Systems and checklists work really well with items and processes related to things. But when we add people into the systems chaos emerges. In that chaos, we can't use a script. It simply becomes too rigid.


That's why I like frameworks for communication better. When we have a framework into which we can put our own words and actions, we can act more authentically. Patients can feel that and they respond positively.


With a framework for communication, we can act more freely. We have to think less about a whole bunch of specific words that have to come in a certain order and with pressure on certain syllables. All adapted to the personality profile of each patient.


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Examples of communication frameworks

Frameworks for patient communication might include:

  • Using the patient's name when we talk to the patient

  • Spend 5 min.listening without interrupting before looking at the teeth.

  • Listen for specific elements of the conversation

  • Do not bring ourselves into the conversation but let the patient speak undisturbed

  • Remember to ask about any concerns before the examination

  • The order and manner in which we present our findings and recommendations (Extremely important)

  • That we do not use models, x-rays or drawings to illustrate our points

  • etc.

Scripts work well for the people who have spent a long time training to make them sound authentic: actors.


Everyone else rarely gets away with trying their luck with scripts. We simply come across as fake.


It's also why most people who have been on various American "sales courses" are not successful in using the techniques they learn. It simply doesn't seem authentic. It's like you have to say something in a way and in an order that doesn't suit your own personality. That will immediately be picked up by the patients as "fake".


Authenticity

If our communication is to have maximum impact on our patients. It needs to be authentic. To be authentic, the vast majority of us must, metaphorically speaking, put aside the doctor coat and just be ourselves with the patient.


2 friends talking on a beach at sunset

There are certainly patients who don't communicate like us and who might find us a bit strange. But if they sense that we are authentic, genuinely want to understand them and accommodate them in the best possible way, we have laid a stronger foundation for success when the complex treatment plan is later presented. Especially if we compare with a model based on scripts and complex models for decoding personality profiles.


For many, the authentic encounter with the patient is transgressive, because it requires that we dare to be vulnerable in the encounter with the patient. It requires that we have the courage to put aside our authority, put ourselves at eye level with the patient and accept everything that comes with an open mind.


Alternatives to scripts

Sample scripts can serve as inspiration for how to communicate with patients. So they should not be abolished altogether.


Rather than scripts, it is much easier to work with phrases and mirror posture, behaviour and tone of voice, rather than having to remember and adapt to different personality profiles.


My recommendation would therefore be to start here. If you copy other people's posture and tone of voice, you will automatically be perceived as more "likeable".


For most people, this is somewhat easier than spending energy going through the many boxes associated with personality profiling.



Conversations are like jazz

Once we have the framework in place and are communicating with our authentic selves, we can start to teach ourselves some phrases. Phrases are short sentences said in a certain way that can be used when we find them appropriate. You could say that phrases are a bit like scripts. They are just much shorter.


For instance:

A phrase that can be used after the initial interview, but before looking at the teeth: "Will the financial consequences, of a possible treatment, be something that worries you?"