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Stepwise Success

Using FORD with Patients

Published December 6, 2013 6:09 AM by Scott Warner

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t -- you’re right.” Ironically, something called the FORD technique can help us when we are struck dumb to make small talk.

Caught in an elevator, sitting in the cafeteria, or waiting for a patient to return in a room with a family member, you’ve probably felt that creeping panic of wondering what to say. It isn’t as though most of us became lab techs because we love crowds. Sure, some of you do, but most of us are happy at the bench, comfortable with instruments, charts, and numbers.

Convinced we have nothing to say, we say nothing. Fearing we will sound stupid, we blurt something and sound stupid. Worried we will say too much, we gabble like a hermit. Meanwhile, others chat with patients and family members like old friends. How?

All behavior can be learned, and good small talk is no exception.

The FORD technique can help you quickly find common ground by asking the other person about the following:

  • Family
  • Occupation
  • Recreation
  • Dreams

Instead of talking about yourself or something else the other person might be indifferent to, avoid controversy by asking simple questions and listening. Talk about their kids, work, what they do for fun, what they plan to do over the summer, etc. You’ll quickly develop a real connection across an otherwise stiff silence.

Years ago, for example, I asked an elderly outpatient what he had done for a job. He told me he wrote screenplays for television, including Dr. Kildare. We chatted easily for a few minutes while I drew blood, labeled tubes, etc. This kind of small talk does much more than satisfy idle curiosity; it can help put a patient or family member at ease. Making that connection helps set your customer service apart, too.

The next time a salesman comes into your laboratory or office, pay attention to what they ask. I’ll bet they use FORD, too. I’ll have to remember to look for that the next time I go to my local GMC dealer.

NEXT: From Bands to Grans

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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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