Among the most critical aspects in learning to deal with difficult or confronting situations with patients is the old axiom that says, "it's not what you say but how you say it that counts." 93% of communication is non-verbal. While it is important to remember mom's admonition to "watch what you say," it is even more important to monitor your tone and body language when speaking. Words comprise only 7% of the message; 38% of the message is auditory (volume, rate of speech, intonation and inflection, even accent); while 55% of the message is derived from visual aspects (facial expressions, body language, even what you are wearing or the environment you are in.) If what you say doesn't match up with how you sound or how you look when you speak, the person will think you are, at best, insincere. (For example, if someone were apologizing to you for some situation, and was laughing while speaking, you wouldn't believe the apology was sincere.)
The greater problem is not the external conversation you have with the person, but rather the internal conversation you have with yourself about the person or situation. This "little voice in your head" can be so loud, that you can't hear what the other person is saying -- you're just waiting for them to take a breath so you can get your response in. This is especially true when we have to deal with someone who is angry or acting in an upset or hostile way. We immediately get our defenses up rather than listen to what they are actually saying, or meaning to say. This in turn ends up influencing how what we say comes across to the other person. Thus, we may say the right words, and still get the wrong result.
In order to be able to come across authentically with "the right thing to say", we must first let go of the need to be right about our point of view and stay open to listening to what the other person is saying. For instance, regarding any complaint, the most effective shift you can make is to think of this complaint as a "gift" even though you may not like the wrapping paper! If you can listen from the point of view that it is a contribution to your commitment to providing excellence in service, you will naturally create a tone of voice, body posture, and facial expression that demonstrates real interest and concern for them. You may or may not be able to give them exactly what they want, but you will be more apt to create a cooperative compromise.
There are also some phrases that will assist you in coming to an agreeable outcome: phrases such as "I agree...(that this is upsetting); "I appreciate...(your willingness to tell me...); "I respect...(your commitment to your child...) are phrases that communicate your willingness to listen to them. Phrases to be avoided are: "it's not possible...", using "no" to start the response; using "but" after saying you understand. In regards to the word “but”, you will notice that whatever follows the “but” negates what precedes it. For example, if you were to say “I really like you but I disagree with you,” the other person will not remember that you like them. However, if you were to say “I really like you and I disagree with you,” your relationship with that person stays intact.
Equipping all levels — from the novice to the seasoned professional — with the best tools of the trade, Joan Garbo has been a national consultant, trainer, and public speaker since 1978. She has applied her extensive training and experience in language development to communication and relationships in the workplace. For the past 25 years, Joan has specialized in consulting and training business owners and their employees in effective communication skills, team-building, executive coaching, and how these impact customer service. Joan is dedicated to supporting professionals in creating work environments that are nurturing, productive, and prosperous to management, employees, and clients. Joan can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, phone at (631) 608-2979. Joan Garbo Consultants, 19 Glen Lane, Copiague, NY 11726. www.joangarbo.com.