Peer-to-Peer on Communicating More Productively

Lisa Frye is director of optical at InVision Ophthalmology in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, AL. Here she shares strategies for communicating to avoid and, when necessary, manage challenging situations.


Part of communicating effectively involves relaying what we heard back to the patient. Asking questions will help us better understand and work to make certain we and the patient are on the same page.

Simply asking our difficult patient how we could make things better or why he or she feels a certain way helps paint a picture of their perceptions. Trying to understand the underlying reason for the difficulty helps us better select responses.

Saying thank you is always an appropriate response. It relays that we truly care and that we validate their concerns. Listening, repeating, communicating effectively, and saying thank you all create the right impression.


Action is the next step. If we understand the trigger behind the difficulty, we can facilitate more productive communication.  

We tend to talk more about a bad experience, but although we may mention a good experience, the negative experience usually evokes more emotional response. It is in our best interest to learn how to respond to difficult patients, but more importantly, how to take a proactive approach to lessen the likelihood of occurrence. 

Here are some examples of several issues you may experience.

• ANXIETY. For difficulty stemming from anxiety or fear, we would want to reassure the patient and offer support and encouragement. 

• EXPERIENCE. If a patient responds due to an experience from the past, we might start the conversation around the fact that we cannot change the past, but today we plan to provide a great experience.  

• DIFFERENCES. Language barriers, difficulty overcoming cultural differences, and relying on interpretation may be challenging but certainly not impossible to navigate.

• THREATS. Responses to manipulation or threats sometimes call for sticking to protocol and saying no. In this area we must truly understand if there is a legitimate reason such as legal obligation or liability, or if the patient is making threats for the sole purpose of manipulating a desired response.

• REASONS. Work to understand the “reasons behind the reasons” such as how someone living with chronic pain may appear to be difficult.

These are just some of the ways you can navigate around a difficult situation. Do you have other tried-and-true responses that have helped in your practice? If so, tell us about them and share in the conversation on Facebook here.

Erinn Morgan

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