How Understanding Personality and Communication Styles Can Improve Patient Care
3 minute read
Have you ever had a situation where you said one thing, but the person who you were talking to heard something else entirely? I think we have all been there!
Communication can be tricky, but it is crucial in our role as physical therapists (PTs) that we constantly work on and improve our communication skills. As PTs, we are in a really unique position to educate people in how they can reach their goals and achieve optimal health, but if we aren't speaking the same language, that message can get lost in translation.
Personality type and communication preferences can provide us with some useful insight in how we adjust our communication delivery and message to meet our patients where they are.
I should note that there are many valuable personality inventories that will help you figure out what works best for you as well as your patients; my favorite is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). MBTI looks at personality using 4 sets of opposite pairs on a continuum. These pairs consider how we direct and receive energy (extroversion vs introversion), how we take in information (sensing vs intuition), how we make decisions (thinking vs feeling), and how we approach the outside world (judging vs perceiving). It is advantageous for us as PTs and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) that we adjust our communication using these pairs in order to speak the patient's language more fluidly.
Another trait related to communications is identifying if someone is an extrovert or an introvert. Extroverts tend to be energized by spending time with people. They are normally more talkative, fast-paced, and think out loud. Stereotypically, these people are the life of the party! They may be your patients who talk a mile a minute during your evaluation. Sometimes you have to redirect the conversation to get to where you need to go, while introverts get their energy from spending time alone. They are thoughtful and like to have time to think before they respond. They also tend to observe situations before jumping in. Generally, introverts prefer to spend their Saturday nights on the couch with a good book. It is important to give these patients time to think before responding, and to follow up to see if they have other questions or thoughts at future sessions. As a card-carrying extrovert, that hang time can be tough for me, but it has made a huge difference in my patient communication and delivery of care.
How a patient communicates, makes decisions, and where on the extrovert/introvert spectrum they land, can also impact how they interact with you as their health care provider. Those patients who are thinkers tend to make their decisions based on logic. They may like to learn about how a treatment works or research studies that support the treatments you have chosen. Patients with feeler preferences make their decisions based on values and are typically warm and empathetic. They want to know how a treatment will make them feel, and they may share how their diagnosis is affecting their lives. If you have a patient who is a thinker, you may want to provide data and handouts. Patients who are feelers may really enjoy being a part of support groups or hearing anecdotes about patients with similar diagnoses who have responded well to treatment.
At the end of the day, while we can't know exactly what is going on in someone else's head, what we can do is pay attention to our own communication and how our patients are responding. To learn more about your own personality and your communication style, I would recommend taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Jacky Arrow, PT, DPT, is a board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy and a certified orthopedic manual therapist. She is the sports clinical coordinator at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. You can reach her via email.