Which of These 3 Conversations Are You Having? Insights from a Doctor’s Office

Getting a Look

I get satisfaction when I see the look pass between them, the young eye doctor and his assistant.

My friend V and I have been sitting in the eye doctor’s exam office for a few minutes already, talking with the doctor and assistant on a Thursday afternoon. They’ve been gently prodding V to open her eyes to cooperate with the exam. She is reluctant.

Then a tornado sweeps in. An older, more gruff eye doctor has stormed into the room. The atmosphere immediately changes. Instead of tenderness and slowness, my friend’s care shifts into a higher gear with the “let’s get this done” attitude of the more hurried doctor.

As the exam winds down, the younger doctor offers his assistance to his elder to finish up the details himself so the older doctor can move on. But his offer is almost rudely rebuffed. The older doctor is clearly demanding his superiority in the room. I notice the younger one cringe a little. Once. Twice.

It is on the third refusal when I see the younger doctor and the assistant exchange the look between each other, as if each is saying, “Gee, why does he have to be so hostile?”

I agree with their unspoken conversation.

Granted, when I go to any doctor, for myself or with someone else, I do want the doctor to be confident about his skills. I want his words and behaviors to indicate his expertise. And I want him to talk and treat me with efficiency and succinctness so I can get in and out as quickly as possible.

But the passing of information isn’t the only conversation I want to have.

3 Types of Conversations

After reading Charles Duhigg’s new book, Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection, I understand a little more clearly what I’d been wanting from the older doctor. And didn’t get.

Duhigg suggests we most often have three types of conversations. Knowing which kind we’re having—or want to have—is the key to its effectiveness.

The three common conversations are:

1. The “What’s this really about?” Conversation
This one is practical. It deals with facts. It is helpful when we need to make a decision and move on.

2. The “How do we feel?” Conversation
When we need to connect on an emotional level, this is the conversation to have. It invites awareness of our emotions, beliefs, and memories.

3. The “Who are we?” Conversation
We tap into a broader, more social mindset with these conversations. These help us acknowledge social differences rather than pretending they don’t exist.

While my primary preference with the eye doctor was to have the “what’s this really about?” conversation, I also needed some “how do we feel?” conversation mixed in.

The news he was giving us was overwhelming, confusing, and a little terrifying. I appreciated receiving the information in a clearcut manner, as if given a menu to choose from, but I also wanted some consideration for the emotional impact involved in making the decision.

I didn’t get it that day.

But I did get something different from the doctor a few days later.

A Different Conversation

It is an early Monday morning, and this time I am sitting with V in a pre-op room, awaiting one of her eye surgeries. The sweet young nurses have already been in to perform their prep work, the anesthesiologist has come and gone after explaining her procedures, and now the older eye doctor jerks back the curtain and blows in.

He talks to V for a minute. He wants to make sure she understands what’s about to happen. Then he pauses. He turns toward me and asks if I have any questions. I don’t.

Yet he still doesn’t walk away. He hesitates a moment longer this second time, and with a soft but serious tone, looks me in the eye, and says, “I will do my best for her.” Another pause. Then he adds, “I can’t guarantee anything, but I want you to know I will do all I can.”

I am surprised. And warmly pleased. This is exactly the “how do we feel?” conversation that I need at this moment. I am grateful.

4 Rules for Conversations

Duhigg writes in Supercommunicators that we are always in a conversation—be it practical, emotional, or social.

To better connect and understand what we and others need, he offers these 4 rules for conversations.

  1. Pay attention to what kind of conversation is occuring.
  2. Share your goals, and ask what others are seeking.
  3. Ask about others’ feelings, and share your own.
  4. Explore if identities are important to this discussion.

It’s not a literal checklist to tick off (although it can be, in the most serious of conversations), but it’s a mindset to facilitate greater communication.

It can mean asking more questions, owning up to our own mistakes and feelings, and being more open about who we are.

Another Opportunity?

On the following Tuesday at V’s follow-up appointment in the doctor’s office, I plan to briefly thank the doctor for the kindness he showed on surgery day. I want him to know his human touch was noticed. It made a difference in a tense moment.

But it is his surly version that shows up again. I can tell he’s in a mad rush. Before I can relay my appreciation for yesterday, I first have to reel him back into the room as he tries to exit—twice—so I can get basic answers about what’s next for V’s care.

This learning conversation is vital, after all.

But he finally succeeds in escaping before I have the opportunity to say thanks, to have the more human conversation I’d envisioned.

It’s a conversation we’ll likely never have now. (I’d rather just give him a look.)

Having the conversations we want doesn’t always come easy. And may not always feel natural. But when they are possible, I hope we can make them happen, unlike my experience.

Connecting with other humans through meaningful conversations—whatever type they are—is always worth our efforts.

Which of the 3 types of conversations do you have most often? I highly recommend Supercommunicators for a more in-depth look at each. You’ll get tips and practical advice you can use immediately.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to Netgalley + Random House for
the review copy of Supercommunicators

14 thoughts on “Which of These 3 Conversations Are You Having? Insights from a Doctor’s Office

  1. Martha J Orlando

    Through our experiences with many different doctors for multiple reasons, I find that I want a physician who’s compassionate and straightforward with me at the same time, whether it be for either Danny or me. This book sounds great, Lisa, for handling all types of conversations and people’s styles to help us deal with them accordingly.
    Blessings and prayers for Vi!

  2. Dianna

    It sounds like the older doctor in the first exam of your friend V needed to show a little KINDNESS. 🙂

    Thank you for the review of the Supercommunicators book. It sounds like something I could learn a great deal from.

  3. Linda Stoll

    Yeah, I’m a ‘how do we feel’ person, but am moving more toward the ‘who are we’ kinds of questions, and trying more and more to focus on the listening end and keeping my viewpoints to myself. We glean so much when we live life in the company of others …

  4. Joanne Viola

    This truly sums it up well >> “Connecting with other humans through meaningful conversations—whatever type they are—is always worth our efforts.” I want to aim for meaningful conversations with others at all times. They are not only worth our efforts but they make others feel their worth. Lisa, I so appreciate the books you share and your insights!

  5. Jean Wise

    First of all that book sounds interesting. Second isn’t it amazing you had such an experience with that doctor as you read this book? Wow. I wonder what is going on inside his heart and head and you did see some kindness at the hospital visit. How is V? Did the surgery help?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for asking about V. I’m sorry to say she’s not doing well. 🙁 The surgeries didn’t help at all (she ended up having three different ones). Apparently she had a fast-moving glaucoma, and no one knew it in time to catch it early enough. I’m a big advocate now for everyone getting their eye pressure checked when they have their annual eye visit! I’m hoping that V will begin adjusting to being blind, but so far it seems to be beyond her capabilities.

      1. Jean Wise

        I am so sorry to hear about V. Sight is such a gift and one I know taken for granted much of the time. Having a friend like you will certainly help. You are a blessing

  6. Ashley Rowland | HISsparrowBlog

    Your experience reminded me of one of my doctors. In the office, she’s brusque and a little cold. But for a procedure, she seems like another person. I haven’t had that conversation with her, of course—I’m not sure it’s possible—but I’ve wondered if she comes alive for the procedures because that’s her favorite part. Maybe V’s doctor is the same? I always appreciate your “stories” in your posts and your book reviews. I hope you’re are doing well!

  7. Karen

    I try to have good communications working with the public, but I feel I fall short sometimes. We use the GIST approach, Greet, Inquire, Suggest, Thank. The book sounds like it has some useful tips for having better communications. I enjoyed reading your views comparing it to some of our everyday situations.

  8. Melynda Brown

    Conversations of all kinds are so important, and learning to have more meaningful conversations is something we all are working on, I believe. This post is one of my features for this weeks WTJR, thank you for sharing with us!

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