Learning to read
Over the years in practice, I discovered that one of the most important things I had been doing to effectively communicate with my patients was listening intently to try and pick up on the one thing, or things that would allow me access to their personality. I displayed my sincerity like a sandwich sign hanging from my shoulders. I developed the ability to read the finest of details about their manner and their mood. With that information, I could tailor my approach, my actions and my own demeanor to fit theirs.
When communicating with people, we usually synchronize our body language, our tone and even our breathing pattern to that person. It is, for the most part, imperceptible. That synchronicity makes us feel closer and warmer toward anyone we’re engaged with. We do it without effort and don’t really notice it ourselves, but it gives us something in common and enhances the efforts to establish rapport.
Body language is so very important in communicating at any level. When we shake hands with someone, do we not form an instant, albeit innocent, judgment of some kind regarding what the person may or may not be like? The firm grip, the weak grip, the overpowering grip…two hands, shoulder bump, stepping forward, pulling back, eye contact and so on. You form your own perception of a person based in large part on your past experience or teachings.I learned to key in on certain things when meeting people for the first time, such as the volume and pitch of their voice. If they are inappropriately loud, it may mean that they’re nervous or insecure rather than assertive or gregarious. If they speak too softly, it may mean they are in pain or not feeling it necessary to assert themselves. These observations are contrary to what I learned in my formal education, but they fall right in line with what I’ve learned as a practitioner. It’s never just one thing, but rather a totality of things.
I learned to listen to the tempo of their sentence structure. Short choppy phrases may indicate frustration or impatience, while long drawn out paragraphs possibly mean fear and stalling. People want to talk to stave off the inevitable or the unknown. Posture and overall appearance are indicators of mood and even character.
Once I identified these moods or behavioral patterns, I knew what and how to say things to effectively get my message across. And was what my message? “You’re safe with me, you can trust me and I can help.” People usually ‘buy’ the messenger rather than the message. I always wanted my patients to understand my motive, my reasoning and my intent. It made them feel comfortable. They could identify with me.
Does that mean you have to become psychologist or a mind reader? No, not exactly, but we do have to learn to listen and look. Don’t be one of those people who only wait for their turn to talk rather than listening to what is being said, then reacting. Learn to care and expose your heart even when there’s no profit involved.
It’s the same when we do lectures, just on a larger scale. People want to identify with who you are and what you represent more than the product or service you are trying to sell. Watch any commercial on TV. Why do they get recognizable voices of celebrities or use their known image to draw you in so that you listen to the ad? It’s a matter of trust. They have done polls and surveys to tell them what will and will not be successful. It’s no different than you doing a quick scan or survey of the people you meet and analyzing their needs.
Imagine you’re communicating over the phone (or by text or email) with someone you haven’t met. There are no intimacy or visual cues as to their tone or mood. You have to evaluate based solely on their voice or their content. It can be a little tough. We can and do get it wrong sometimes. Now add in a video picture or the actual person so you have instant access to body language and other clues and keys. It’s much easier right? It just takes caring and a desire to know more and be able to help a person, patient or not, with what is troubling him or her. That effort to identify and show that you can be trusted, that they are safe with you and that you sincerely want to help is worth the effort of ‘reading’ your patients. And once you’ve correctly read their demeanor, it makes life and practice so much easier and so much more rewarding.
Gary A. Daniel, DC, is a professor and graduate of Parker College of Chiropractic.