At a recent conference, I spoke about communication in the healthcare setting and suggested that the major premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, has a lot to tell us about how we interact with our patients. Gladwell provides data showing that we all make snap decisions and that we usually decide whether we like someone within the first few seconds of meeting them. For this reason, it’s important to set ourselves up to make the best first impression on our patients – even before we walk in the exam room. One thing we can do to create a positive impression and establish rapport is to smile at our patients when we greet them. Patients like seeing providers who look like they enjoy what they do, and who look happy to see them. Our pleasant demeanor feels better to our patient than when we walk into a room with a frown on our face because we’re still thinking about something unfortunate that just happened or worrying about what might happen later in our day. It’s a simple idea – but often, the most powerful concepts are the simplest.
The next day, in a cab from the airport, I found out how right this concept is.
The cab driver was a delightful 33y/o man who was married at age 19 and was working hard to support his wife and three young children. He was mostly concerned with the basic priorities of his life and shared some of his concerns about his marriage and job security. He brightened up when he talked about taking his kids to the park in the summer and seemed sad that they had returned to school, since his nighttime work hours kept him from spending much time with them since school had started. Near the end of the ride he asked what I did for work and I told him I was a physician. That put a big smile on his face as he exclaimed, “I like doctors who smile the way you do. You know, it makes you feel good when your doctor smiles.”
Our days at work are usually full and often there are many things we are worried about. But by bringing ourselves into the current moment so we can welcome each patient with a smile, we make a powerful statement. The simple act of smiling often creates the connection and begins to develop the rapport we need for our patient to trust us and partner with us. And that will make both of us feel good.