How Your Voice Can Ruin Your Practice

“Oh honey! Let me see if I can button that for you!” Those were the words I heard on a recent visit to see a friend in an assisted living center. Then I watched “honey” cringe and roll her eyes…

“I am NOT a child!” she snapped.

“Elderspeak,” the tendency of younger people to speak to frail-appearing elders in a tone of voice not unlike baby talk makes me cringe, too. Hearing such baby talk to an older adult goes right up my backbone. I can only imagine, when someday I’m in a nursing home and some sweet-young-thing speaks to me as if I have only half a brain, what I will say to him or her. When I am underestimated, I am not kind in return.

And I’m not the only one! In fact, there is a strong movement afoot within the world of eldercare to eradicate elderspeak. You will be wise to heed what they say if you work with older adults and tend to simplify or “sweeten” your words when you address them.

Don’t go there! Speak to people like the adults they are! To underestimate them can ruin your reputation which will affect your ability to be hired to work with older clients – one of an advocate’s major target audiences.

That’s not the only way tone of voice can get in the way of your work…

The other way that comes to mind is the angry tone of voice I’ve heard in discussions about the healthcare system, and the tendency of some advocates to let that anger creep into their conversations with clients, or to be overheard by clients.

Many people (including me!) come to advocacy because of a negative experience they had with the healthcare system – a medical error, loss of a loved one, misdiagnosis – the list goes on. Their anger informs their work and frankly, that’s not entirely a bad thing….

Examples: understanding (resulting in anger over) the problems and roadblocks that come from insurers who refuse to approve a doctor’s prescription or a claim. Or knowing how hospitals and doctor practices balance bill – illegally.  Or realizing that a doctor has withheld a treatment suggestion because no money can be made from it… the list goes on… When anger has led to a clearer understanding of those hurdles and the ways around them, that can be a positive. Use it!

angry advocate

But a line is crossed when the advocate lets the anger take control over the work. Clients can tell when an advocate has lost control – which then makes them question the relationship, and lose trust.

If they hear anger creep into your voice during a conversation,or they are in the room when you’re on the phone talking to their insurer or doctor’s office and they hear you lose your temper… it makes them very, very uncomfortable.

It’s not that they don’t want you to be tough to get what is needed from the system. It’s that they are afraid of retribution.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I actually have a name for it: The Waiter Will Spit in My Soup Syndrome. That is; they are afraid that if you lose your temper with the party who needs to agree or change their mind, that somehow the patient (your client) will not get what they need. In fact, they are afraid of even bigger problems being imposed on them.

So – don’t do it. Don’t let anger creep into your voice, no matter who you are dealing with. Not only will you lose control of the conversation, you will lose the respect of your client, too. You may further be less effective overall.

Those are two examples of how your voice can have a negative effect on your practice. Can you think of others?


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1 thought on “How Your Voice Can Ruin Your Practice”

  1. Absolutely. This also goes for individuals who have suffered a neurologic trauma, for example a stroke. Many times it is not known to what extent verbal expression and comprehension may be effected. One should always error on the side communicating in a normal adult fashion unless family or providers request otherwise.

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