Nurse prescriber Julie Scott explains how to identify different personality types in your patients and adapt your communication style accordingly
Have you ever categorised your patients? Yes, I hear you say! You probably sort patients into categories such as what treatments they have, their demographics, perhaps income level. But have you ever thought about their personality type?
Psychology may not always be at the forefront of an aesthetic practitioner’s mind, but after 20+ years in this industry, recently applying knowledge of psychometric testing to my business has been transformational. Some tools I’ve used for this are Insights Discovery,1 16 Personalities,2 and Talent Dynamics,3 though there are dozens out there to choose from. What many of these testing tools have in common is that they often organise all personality types into a small number of wider categories, followed by any number of sub-categories and specific named personality types. Knowing this, I now mentally combine multiple tests and utilise a general framework of four categories by which to address my patients. So whilst I’m not advocating testing each patient, that comes through your door, what I can say is that having a basic understanding of the merits of psychometric testing, and mirroring its function by rudimentarily dividing your patients into a small number of categories, can really help your practice both in consultation and during treatment. Each practitioner’s framework or understanding will be unique, but I really encourage doing this exercise for yourself. Whether you utilise an existing test’s categories or combine multiple theories into one will be up to you and your understanding, but to better explain the benefits of this, let me give an example of the categories I use (the main tenants of which I have completely taken from the tests I named above).
In general – and again, this is my own simplified framework so I really do encourage you to look into one of these official psychometric tests for yourself – I tend to think of my patients as belonging to one of four categories. Obviously, there is far more nuance to each individual, and it’s impossible to really know a person from just one brief meeting. However, I have found that these four communication styles tend to cover 99% of new patients coming through my door, and it’s far more effective than just having one approach for everybody. I don’t sit each patient down with an iPad and make them fill out a personality questionnaire along with their medical history form, but between their body language and their response to “How can I help you today?”, I usually have enough information to adapt my consultation accordingly.
Firstly, there are what I call nurturers; these are gentle patients who expect a gentle approach from their practitioner in return. You’ll know they’re a nurturer if they try to find an affinity with you from the offset, because ultimately they’ll do anything to avoid conflict. They’ll often start a conversation with a compliment, and will try to make sure you’re at ease even when it should be the other way around!
The next type is a group I call questioners, but ‘cautious Cathys’ is another term I’ve heard used in this industry – and every practitioner will know who I mean by this! These patients need copious amounts of objective information before making a decision. They’ll probably start the conversation by asking about your qualifications and experience, and you’ll definitely need the full amount of time that you schedule in with these patients, if not more. Lastly, their body language can often be quite closed until they begin to trust you, but as they do, you can often see them physically open up – this is quite rewarding.
Next are the social butterflies, talkative and excitable patients who value a personal connection as much as your qualifications and approach to treatment. If you’ve ever had a patient try to hug you on your first meeting, they’re probably this type! They’ll often ask you how you are before you can ask them, and they’ll be genuinely interested in the answer. When you ask during the consultation how you can help them, they’ll often tell you everything – everything going on in their lives, everything they’ve been thinking that’s led them to your clinic and so on.
Then lastly are the direct and straightforward executive types. Unlike the social butterflies, they won’t ask you about your day, and unlike the cautious Cathys, they’ll be brief with their questions. They will never be afraid of holding very direct eye contact, but can be quite closed with their body language otherwise. If you ask them during the consultation how you can best help them, they’ll tell you exactly what they want from you, usually in very few words.
So why do I find this so useful? A patient’s personality type affects how they retain information, how they like to be communicated with, and what kind of information they will be receptive to. These three factors will determine whether your consultation is successful and you gain a new patient, or whether that patient leaves and goes elsewhere – or nowhere at all.
Ask yourself the following: have you ever gone into a consult with a new patient and felt that you’re just not connecting with the person opposite you? I certainly have – in the past I have had patients who leave my clinic and I think, ‘did I do something wrong? Why do I feel like they haven’t taken in anything I’ve just said?’ Often for me these patients are quite short, and want to move on to the next topic as soon as I answer their question. In the past I may have mistaken their bluntness for rudeness, or at best, thought they just weren’t my cup of tea.
Now, with experience and the help of psychometric testing, I know that they are most likely just the opposite side of the personality spectrum from me. It’s not that they’re rude or that they dislike me, it’s simply that they are direct, to the point, and don’t need lots of ‘fluff’ surrounding the key information they’re seeking. They benefit from bullet points. They seek simplicity. I am not the same, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to meet their needs, now that I know what kind of personality they have.
So, now I’ve identified what my patient needs, how do I communicate with them?
The example patient above, who I may have once incorrectly identified as rude or blunt, is a good example of an executive type. They need straightforward answers and simple solutions, and are often direct and to the point. Consultations must be efficient and treatments don’t require any fluff either. I can often schedule these patients for 10 minutes less than the other types because they’re not likely to want to stick around after treatment discussing the weather – they like to be in and out.
As for the other personality types, for the gentle nurturers, I make sure to listen at least as much as I talk. Any information I provide is expressly tailored to what they have expressed concern about. Until they trust you, these patients may feel especially offended if you address something outside the realm of what they’ve specifically come to you for. A conveyor belt approach will not work with these patients, as they need to feel invested in and treated like an individual. Flattery, on the other hand, goes a long way with these patients and conflict must be avoided at all costs. Say you have a patient who asks for something they’re simply not clinically indicated for – an executive may be fine with a straightforward and firm ‘no’, but a nurturer will need letting down gently.
Questioners may take more than a consultation before they come on board. I always send a summary email following each consultation, and this personality type will usually reply to this email with five more questions, often listed in order of personal relevance to them. Answering these questions may even lead to further questions, but once they have made their decision they tend to be very loyal patients. Just be careful that the questions they’re asking are for clarification and not indicating a red flag patient. Once you earn these patients trust though, repeat treatments usually become very straightforward. For initial treatments, they’ll probably benefit from you explaining each step of the process and everything you’re doing as you’re doing it.
Social butterflies will require more of a personal chat before I can get into the fundamentals of the consultation and start talking aesthetics with them. They may value a personal connection with you just as much as they value your professional qualifications or experience, so don’t skip the small talk with these patients, during consultation or treatment. You’ll need to walk the line between being friendly without being their friend, and this will mean controlling the conversation so they aren’t chatting when you need them to be quiet – like injecting their lips!
It’s equally important to note that you should start this process of utilising personality types in practice by finding out which personality type you are, because this will influence how you see the other types and how best to interact with them.
Personally, I’ve found that knowing my own personality type through different types of tests (they all tend to align quite clearly) has been hugely important in helping me communicate with my patients. By my own combined framework, I tend to nurture people, and therefore I need to work extra hard to overcome dealing with those direct, blunt patients. Similarly, I don’t have to try quite as hard to connect with my questioners or social butterflies and dealing with other nurturers comes naturally to me. This is relevant because knowing where to expend a bit more effort and where one can be more relaxed is crucial to a busy practitioner and a clinic’s growth.
Your ideal patient is a larger group than who your personality type is. So, because you can’t only have patients who are like you, you need to be able to adapt. I know many practitioners who think of themselves as chameleons, able to change how they come across based on the patient they have in front of them, and that’s exactly what I’m advocating. Being a chameleon is a great skill as a practitioner! Understanding personality theory is just one tool to help you become one. So, what’s your personality type?
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