Are you on the right wavelength?

Anthony Asquith suggests how best to tune in to patients when managing complaints

When we receive a complaint, it’s really difficult to remain actively positive about the situation because we naturally have a fight or flight response that occurs and needs to be held in check when dealing with the situation and in the moment.  Take heart though, there are some interesting pointers you might consider…

Paint a picture

Positivity has been the subject of much research and there is a lot of evidence that supports its importance in many areas of life and clinical practice.
You may be right now, in negotiation with someone about a difficult situation or a complaint.  During this you might find that whilst not being nasty or brutish, maybe you will feel it necessary to be tough minded,  about the other parties demands on you or your clinic.

A few years back, Shirley Kopelman, of the University of Michigan, tested this idea by presenting a simulated negotiation to MBA graduates that produced some marvellous results. The graduates were given the role of planning a wedding reception and were told that they had previously negotiated with a leading catering company, a good faith estimate of $14,000 for its services on the day.

Get creative!

• Negative emotions evolved to focus our attention and move our behaviours toward survival

• Positive emotions broaden people ideas and perceptions to a wider range of thoughts making us more receptive

and creative

• In negotiation, presenting friendlier manner can widen your own view of your counterpart and his situation

They were also told that they were about to meet the catering manager who was going to tell them that the price due to fluctuations had risen to £16,995 and, what’s more, the catering company had another client who was also wanting to use them on the same day and was willing to pay this increased sum.
 What the participants didn’t know, however, was that they had been segmented into three groups and the supposed catering manager was also an actor who’d received training. The catering manager gave the same explanation for the changed price and offered identical terms and conditions to all three groups however, there was a variance.


To one group, she explained the situation apologetically, smiled often, appeared cordial and inviting. To the second group she was more confrontational came across as antagonistic and intimidating. To the final group she used an even monotone voice and displayed little emotion whilst appearing pragmatic.

This final variant had a considerable effect because those who had heard the positive inflected pitch were twice as likely to accept the worsening deal as those who’d heard the negative. In a subsequent similar experiment the negotiators were able to make a counter offer and those who had dealings with the negative person made far less generous counter offers than those who’d dealt with someone presenting the bad news in with a sunnier disposition and in a more positive way.

Rubs off

Other studies have shown that positive emotion and attitude expands behavioural repertoires and heightens intuition and creativity, all of which play a part in enhancing effectiveness.

One additional factor worth mentioning, too, is ‘emotional contagion’ – in other words, that these emotions as shown in Kopleman’s research are highly contagious. The positive effect ‘rubs off’ or spreads to others making them less resistant, adversarial and more open to the negotiation and perhaps willing to reach agreement which is beneficial to both parties.
 So, when you next enter a situation requiring a difficult conversation with a patient, keep your sunny side up – it’s catching!

Anthony Asquith is a brief-solution focused hypnotist and psychotherapist who works exclusively within the dental profession running Dentcom Training. He and his team organise workshops to inspire dental professionals in their personal development. He will be introducing DISC personality profiling as the model of human behaviour.


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