Are You Communicating to Your Patients or Engaging With Them
Communication has changed a lot over the decades. I’m an Xennial, so I’ve been a witness to at least some of those changes. A big one is communication technology. Before there was Skype, Zoom, and Facebook Messenger, there was Yahoo chat, MSN messenger, and ICQ (all of which I used) and were not necessary for businesses to reach out. Needless to say, a lot has changed. The new platforms provided an entirely different avenue for businesses to explore additional communication options.
When the pandemic hit, these options became mandatory. Soon, businesses had to think outside the box of traditional communication and come up with something that wasn’t just effective but safe.
Technology wasn’t just an option for communication anymore, it was a necessity. Businesses were using Zoom to video conference with staff and customers, in addition to reaching out through email, SMS, and social media platforms like Facebook.
Dental and Hygiene appointments were being booked and rescheduled online. Forms were being completed online. And communication through email and SMS was a MUST for all offices.
But with technology becoming more crucial to communication throughout 2020 and this year, you have to ask – are you just communicating to your patients, or are you engaging with them? Do you know the difference? Isn’t communicating to and engaging with the same thing?
I would argue that it isn’t. And because communication technology has become such a staple in our daily lives, the line may have become a little blurry. So, in this post, I’m going to explain the difference between communicating to and engaging with your patients as well as provide helpful tips that will ensure a good experience between you and your patients, both online, on the phone, and in person.
What does it mean to just communicate?
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, to communicate means “To share information with others by speaking, writing, moving your body, or using other signals.” Communicating means that you are sharing the information but with absolutely no guarantee that the other side is actually listening or taking it in.
Communication of any form is only effective when both sides are on board. It requires a lot more than just relaying information or sending them a quick email or text reminder for their next appointment.
What does it mean to engage?
The Cambridge English Dictionary’s definition of the word engage is “To cause someone to become interested or involved in an activity, or to attract someone’s interest.” The operational word to be aware of is interest. This word makes up the difference between communicating to and engaging with your patients.
Engaging requires a different kind of communication skillset because this is no longer about just one side, it’s about both: yours and the patient’s. You are not just sharing information the patient might or might not be hearing, you are engaging with them in an effort to attract their interest.
You don’t want to just talk to your patient and hope they’re listening; you want to empower your patient and know that they are interested enough to listen.
What are some of the ways you can attract interest?
The way you know you’re communicating effectively is when your patient actively engages with your message, whether it’s with relevant questions, asking for advice, agreeing to a procedure, or even just following through on information you shared with them regarding their oral health practices.
The Power of Empathy
Whether you’re on the phone or online, the power of empathy prompts real engagement. Sometimes, you must step back from your role to understand what your patient or potential patient is going through. On my search for a new dentist, this attribute was number one on my list of priorities. The lack of empathy in any type of communication can cause a severe shutdown. No one will want to open up and engage if they don’t feel like you know or care what they’re dealing with.
If you can communicate in such a way that your patient knows you can relate to how their feeling, you have a higher chance of achieving interest and engagement.
The Power of Sincerity
Attracting interest through communication requires more than just understanding how to use social media to get your message across, it requires sincerity. Empathy and sincerity go hand in hand. And it is easy to identify a lack of both when in-person and online.
Sincerity ensures patients will do more than just nod their head at you, they will be interested enough in your message to engage. In person, you can smile with your eyes and adjust the tone in your voice for the assurance patients are looking for.
However, a written message online cannot physically smile or provide that note of assurance.
The Power of Tone
Tone becomes important when you need to convey your empathy and your sincerity in a long or short message via email, social media, or even text. When I said that you can’t physically smile or provide a note of assurance in writing, that is only partly true. With the right word choice and awareness, you can use an empathetic tone to help your message smile and stay reassuring without a face or a voice. It is important to note, though that to have an empathetic tone, you need to write with sincerity.
Small or large, the tone is always a factor and can help attract the interest of not just your existing patients but those potential ones as well.
The power of Active Listening
Although this might seem cliché, active listening is crucial to attracting the interest of existing as well as potential patients. Effective communication with patients starts with active listening. Let the patient talk and sincerely listen without interruption. Learning exactly what a patient needs ensures a more positive experience for both you and them, on the phone and in person.
As a health professional, it is incumbent upon you to empower patients with the knowledge required to make an informed decision when it comes to their oral health. But communicating your goals and opinions means more than just sharing the information and hoping patients are listening.
Using the tools above will guarantee that patients are listening and taking in the information you’re sharing, but more than that, tools like empathy, sincerity, tone, and being willing to really listen will ensure that patients will take more of an interest and engage with you about what’s really important: their own oral health.