By Jonathan Winnegrad, ABO-AC, NCLE-AC

We live in complex times that require even more complex solutions. With everybody busier than they have ever been, mental health challenges continuing to increase exponentially and a profession that has us rubbing elbows with people all day long every day, it is only a matter of time until, regrettably, as opticians we have tension and conflict with disgruntled patients and customers.

Even if we have the best people skills and bedside manner in the world, it is only a matter of time until somebody feels like we have done them wrong. I have had patients have absolute meltdowns for the most bizarre and senseless reasons over the years. Several times patients are upset about the glasses that they themselves chose. When they came to pick them up at dispense, they had a meltdown. There is no way for us to control what is going on inside of a patient. Sometimes our patients have mental disorders, are under a lot of stress, or have things going on in their lives that we could never even dream of. What we can control, however, is how we react when things start getting out of hand. Here are some ways to diffuse these inevitable encounters.

Listen! Everybody wants to be heard. Fight the tendency to rush to tell the patient why they are wrong or why you are justified in whatever situation (even if you are!). Maintain eye contact and nod while listening to the patient explain what is bothering them. Fight the urge to interrupt. This will give validation to the patient. There are many people nowadays just looking to be heard and validated.

Compassionate Communication! Put yourself in the patient’s shoes (or glasses). Acknowledge the patient's grievance and respond with genuine concern. This can end up building trust and give them the ability to see things from your perspective. If you do not let them show you their perspective, you have slim chances of being able to express yours.

Take your chill pill! No, I am not advocating the use of “special gummies” or popping a Xanax. I am highlighting the fact that if you model a calm and composed demeanor there is a much higher likelihood of your patient doing the same. Be the thermostat not the thermometer and bring the temperature down!

Juke! Try to get the patient to stop talking about or thinking about the problem by offering real solutions. If you can offer multiple solutions that the patient can choose from, it allows them to feel like they are in the driver’s seat. Ask the patient what they think a fair solution would be. If it is not too detached from reality, try to incorporate at least some of what they suggest into your resolution. Redirect to the manager or owner. If things are not starting to simmer down, the patient is using profanity laden rants, things escalate, or you cannot personally offer solutions, I would recommend you get the owner or next level of administration involved. Once again, some things are out of your control; there is no shame in getting somebody with more decision-making ability involved.

We cannot always control what makes a patient go ballistic. We cannot control when a patient will have a meltdown. What we can do is have a gameplan for things to go as smoothly as possible with a diffused situation.