Staying calm cool and collected during doctor’s appointments and healthcare meetings can be an incredible challenge but allowing yourself to be overly emotional can shut down doctor-patient communication in its tracks.
Being overly emotional during health care appointments will reduce doctor interaction and the level of care you receive. Emotions such as being anxious or overly nervous, crying, showing frustration or anger shuts down conversations and you run the risk of being labelled with a psychiatric condition. At worst, it will get you fired as a patient.
Throughout my career as an RN and over the last several years as a navigator, I have seen this play out, repeatedly. Is it right? No. But doctors are people, too, and dealing with someone who is overly emotional is exhausting and frustrating and takes much more time. You are likely not the only person who has taken their frustrations out on them that day and that affects them and all future patient care.
We often are hired as navigator-advocates because patients are feeling unheard or even ignored. Often this is because they don’t know how to communicate effectively or have learned poor communication habits. I have attended appointments where the patient has cried through the consultation or slouched down in the chair so low as to be invisible. I have had so many clients say, “He needs to see how frustrated and angry I am! I’m just done!” or, when going to see a new physician, “They all treat me like crap and have all of my life. All doctors are the same and this one is not going to be any different…” and then go into the appointment angry and unwilling to take in any new information and much more likely to be compliant to proposed treatments.
Being overly emotional means that you are less likely to hear what your doctor has to say and interferes with information processing. When you are upset, the doctor needs to support your emotional well-being before getting relevant information from you and giving you treatment advice.
Some ideas to get through an appointment logically:
- Honey works so much better than vinegar. Be kind, leave your anger and frustration at the door, and show your doctor and nurses that you know they are busy and you appreciate their time.
- Write down what you need to accomplish in the appointment. If you are too upset to talk, hand the written list over to your doctor to read.
- Bring someone with you who can be calm, cool and collected and have them take notes.
- Be clinical about your feelings when you are describing them to your doctors. “I am very nervous about this; this scares me; I am worried,” and say those things as if you are outside your feeling self.
- See if you can visualize a “logic switch” and turn it on just long enough to get through the appointment.
- Do positive self-talk immediately before the appointment: “I am calm and I am listening.”
- Be aware of your body language: sit up straight, arms softly at your sides, and look your doctor in the eyes.
- Be “in the moment”: listen and don’t move onto your next thought or retort before the doctor is finished.
- Avoid, ‘but’. “That’s great BUT I’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.” It means you are not in full listening mode and it shuts down the conversation.
- Avoid applying an emotional context to the appointment: “He didn’t like me; She is so arrogant; He’d already made up his mind; She wasn’t taking me seriously.” Doctors are often in a rush, in a hurry, logical, and are trained not to show excessive concern and how they react to you often has nothing to do with you.
- And, never, ever, show crocodile tears just to get a reaction. Doctors can see through fake emotions faster than the time it takes for you to sit down. Fake emotions are a sign of immaturity, lack of self-control, and manipulation.
All of this takes practice. But better communication means better health care.