How to win patients and influence people.
Dan Lok wasn’t looking for a suit that day. He already had plenty. Strolling into the boutique menswear store down the road, the businessman was just planning to have a quick browse around before heading off to his next meeting. As he moved from rack to rack, admiring the perfect seams and luxurious fabric, a well-dressed sales member stopped him.
“Sir, is there anything I can help you with?”
“No, it’s ok, I was just browsing,” Lok replied, as he turned towards the door, preparing to leave."
"Can I ask you for a small favour before you leave? Try this on.”
The salesman handed him a tuxedo and motioned for him to put it on. Lok, who still had some time to kill before his meeting, got dressed and looked in the mirror.
“How do you feel?” the man asked, a coy smile cutting across his face as he straightened up the hems.
“Pretty good, actually”, Lok responded, admiring the cut and beginning to wonder if his wardrobe could handle another tux.
“Sir, are you a fan of James Bond?”
“Ahh of course. Who isn’t?”
“Well, this tuxedo happens to be the exact design James Bond wears in Casino Royale. You pull it off well,” the salesman gushed.
Lok knew the man was just trying to sell him the tux, of course. But it didn’t matter. Because he felt like James Bond in the suit. And that made him feel pretty darn good.
Minutes later, he walked out of the store, with a $3,000 receipt in one hand, and a kickass suit in the other.
That, my friends, is the power of selling. Lok didn’t need another suit. But he bought one anyway. Why? Because Dan Lok wasn’t really buying a tuxedo. He was buying an emotion. The tux made him feel good about himself and the sales guy knew that. He knew that to make the sale, it had to be about more than just the tux. He needed to sell a feeling. People may justify decisions with logic, but they buy because of emotion.
But I’m a doctor. I don’t sell tuxedos. Why does this matter to me?
It matters, because as a physician, your job is to sell health. And I’m not just talking about your fees. Becoming a successful physician is predicated on your ability to persuade others. There’s an entire bubble around you that involves you influencing others to behave in a certain way; the patient who needs to start exercising, the receptionist who doesn’t greet patients the way you want him to, the conference you want to speak at, the new patients you want to attract to your clinic, the medical luminary you want to be mentored by.
People are complicated and there’s no magic bullet for convincing people to do what you’d like them to do. But there is one great way to start the conversation—work out their why.
Start with why
Simon Sinek’s famous Start with Why talk is one of the most popular videos on Youtube and with good reason. Sinek argues that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it (if you haven’t already, watch the video). He's adamant that the surest way to persuade anyone to do what you need them to do is to give them a good reason to.
The road to least resistance when it comes to persuasion is to map out why someone should do something and connect that with something emotional. If you have a patient with hypothyroidism who struggles to stick to their medication regimen, it’s tempting to just tell them that their symptoms will continue till they take their meds and leave it at that. But we both know that’s probably not going to work. Often, all a patient needs to go from preparation to action is a story that highlights the emotional benefits of moving from where they are today, to where they want to be tomorrow. For example, if you know that your patient loves to hike but hasn’t had the energy to do so for several months, a story about another patient who was able to get back to marathon running soon after committing to their meds could be all the motivation they need to stick to their treatment plan.
The process is simple but requires a certain degree of empathy. When you find yourself in a situation that requires you to influence someone else, put yourself in their shoes: what matters to them and how do you connect that with a certain action they need to take? What’s the why that will galvanize them into taking action?
The Why levers
Working out their why is the first step. But there are billions of whys motivating people to do what they do, so how do you work out which to focus on? People are typically motivated by two primary factors; they want to feel good, or they want their problem solved (or both!).
This one is obvious. People don’t buy their way into something—they buy their way out. If you can identify a problem that someone is facing, figure out how you can solve it better than anyone else. Does that conference need someone who can run a unique workshop on ECG interpretation? Do you specialize in a specific area and want to attract more patients to your clinic? Create content and build a social following of people who would benefit from your expertise and eventually want to see you.
The significant objects experiment was started by a couple of guys in 2009 who wanted to objectively measure the power of storytelling. They bought $129 worth of random trinkets and hired writers to craft a story to accompany each piece and then listed them on eBay. The result? They took $129 worth of stuff and sold them for over $3,000. This is the power of narrative. Stories drive emotional value. The people who bought the trinkets paid many multiples more than what the product was worth because it felt good. The objects they bought had significance in their mind despite the fact that objectively, they were just random pieces of junk. How do you apply this understanding in your life? As practitioners of reason, we sometimes struggle to accept that people very often don’t make decisions based on logic. If we want to help a patient change their behavior, we often need to make it personal for them. Give them a reason to personally identify with a certain outcome. Learning the art of storytelling is a powerful tool you can use to do that. You really want Dr XYZ to mentor you but you know that they’re really busy and rarely take on new mentees. Find out why they’re motivated to mentor in the first place and find a way to make them feel good about taking you on versus someone else. Perhaps you both came from the same small town or you wrote a glowing review of one of their books and shared it around online. This probably won’t be enough to get them to agree but making them feel good about you is always a great start.
Here's what you do.
Think about a particular situation you’re facing right now which requires you to persuade someone to do something. Perhaps you need more funding for a research project, a local clinic to send you more referrals, etc. As an example, let’s look at a patient, Bill, who has just come to see you after his blood test results came back. Bill is showing signs of prediabetes.
- What’s the ideal outcome in this situation? Delay diabetes with lifestyle changes.
- What needs to be done to get the desired outcome? Cut out sugar for a while. Bill is generally quite active and eats well but has admitted to having a strong sweet tooth.
- What would motivate someone to contribute to that outcome? Do they have an unmet need that could be resolved or an emotional reason to do this? Bill hikes every weekend therefore physical stamina is important to him. He would likely be motivated to avoid anything that would compromise this. A possible side effect of metformin– which he’ll need to start taking if his prediabetes progresses– is asthenia (physical weakness). This is likely to motivate him to do what it takes to avoid medication.
- What can you say or do to convince someone to contribute to your desired outcome based on the motivators you identified? Let Bill know that fatigue and weakness is a possible side effect of metformin, which he will need to take if lifestyle changes don’t make a difference. This might affect his ability to stay active. If he can commit to lifestyle changes, he might be able to avoid taking metformin.
This isn’t an exact science but a good place to start when you’re in a position where you need to use your persuasion skills to make something happen.