16 ways to resolve conflict


Use these tips to change client confrontations into useful collaborations.

1. Maintain eye contact. If you look away too often during the conversation, you're sending the wrong message. Maintaining regular eye contact—not a stare-down—conveys interest, responsiveness, and openness to the client.

2. Use your eyebrows. The more animated your eyebrows, the more outgoing, friendly, and engaging you appear. The best way to express a positive thought is to raise your eyebrows. Your entire face lifts and you portray a message of “I'm open to what you have to say.”

3. Your eyes show emotion. Widen your eyes for interest or passion. This is a welcoming sign for others. When you narrow your eyes, you're saying, “I don't believe you” or “I don't agree with you.”

4. Smile! Make sure your smile is genuine. Don't fake a smile if you don't feel it. If you don't feel like smiling at clients, you probably shouldn't be seeing them. A warm and inviting smile can go a long way toward defusing a tense situation.

5. Hold your head up when you're talking. It demonstrates interest and conveys that you're warm and friendly.

6. Maintain good posture. Slouching, however subtle, sends a subconscious signal that you're disengaged and disinterested.

7. Think openness. When it comes to your body, always think open, not closed. Limit crossing of your arms and legs; these postures indicate that you're close-minded and disengaged.

8. Relax your body. Don't tap your feet or fingers when someone is talking. Relaxation says that you're interested and taking the time to listen. Nervous jitters indicate, “Hurry up. I've got to go.” Or, “I really don't like this conversation.” Remember to relax your face as well. A tight face often causes a wrinkled or furrowed brow and narrowed eyes—indications of disinterest.

9. Use clients' and patients' names. The friendliest word in the world is a person's name. So use them—but don't overuse them. And always introduce yourself.

10. Analyze your voice. Record yourself talking to clients with a video or audio recorder. Once you get used to hearing your voice played back to you, you can begin to improve it.

I recommend studying people with friendly and warm voices. What is it about them that conveys those feelings? Don't copy them, but break it down into data that you can apply to your own speaking style.

When we're upset or anxious, our vocal quality changes. Our tone often raises and our rate of speaking increases—both indicators that we're uncomfortable with the situation. Videotape yourself and role-play unexpected and stressful conversations to better prepare for the inevitable. I'm not a fan of the “trial by fire” school of learning. Too often, we get burned before we learn how to handle the heat.

Tim Sanders and other communication experts recommend that you don't match your tones with other people when they're unfriendly, upset, or angry. Maintain a calm, friendly tone even when you're faced with severe negativity.

11. Be seated whenever possible. When you're communicating from a seated position, clients perceive that you have plenty of time to listen to their concerns. Being seated also has the added benefit of being a nonverbal cue that when you stand it's “time to go” or move on to another part of the exam.

12. Demonstrate genuine interest and concern in the client's complaint. Clients respond more favorably to doctors who they feel truly care for them and their pets and have their best interests in mind.

13. Explain “why?” to clients. Clients are more likely to comply with recommendations when they understand why something is needed. Speak in plain, simple language and reinforce the benefit to the client and patient. “Mrs. Smith, if you use these eye drops every eight hours, we should be able to clear up Scooter's eye infection and the discomfort it's causing by the end of the week.”

14. Acknowledge your client's concerns, no matter how trivial. Too often, we dismiss a client's concern because we, as medical professionals, can't fathom why someone would think that way.

When it comes to dental prophys, the primary reason that clients don't pursue them for their pets is the fear of anesthetic death. “Mrs. Smith, I understand your concerns for Fluffy. And you're absolutely right to be concerned about anesthesia. Anytime a person or pet is sedated or anesthetized, there is a slight chance that something could go wrong. I'd like to tell you what we do to minimize these risks because, like you, anesthesia is something that I worry about.” Then go on to describe what you use for the procedure and why, your monitoring equipment, and your trained and experienced staff members.

By openly addressing the client's concerns, you have a better chance at compliance and allaying their fears.  If you dismiss or ignore these issues, the client is less likely to comply and continues to harbor misinformed and misguided fear.

15. Use visual aids. Employ anatomical models and diagrams, or draw on a piece of paper—use whatever teaching tools you have available to better communicate the procedure or disease process. Many of the diseases we're explaining are complicated and involve concepts that most people are unfamiliar with, leading to misunderstandings and complaints.

16. Use written discharge instructions. Studies show that your clients retain less than 30 percent of your spoken conversation. So provide written information to augment your conversation. Be sure that the information is current, accurate, reflects your professionalism, and offers evidence-based reasons. This will help persuade a skeptical client.

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