Healthcare: How medical professionals in clinics and practices torpedo patient communication every day with two ill-considered words

What it’s all about

Undiplomatic, clumsy, dismissive, toxic: the phrase „Yes, but…“ is probably the most frequently used „killer phrase“ in doctor-patient conversations.

The negative yes-but power.

It is so problematic because it

  • basically signals a negative attitude and defensiveness on the part of the doctor,
  • tends to lead a conversation in a confrontational direction,
  • makes patients feel that their concerns or needs are not being taken seriously,
  • demonstrates a lack of respect for the other person’s opinion, even if it is factually incorrect,
  • leads to the patient feeling dismissed or not heard, and thus feels downgraded,
  • gives the impression that the doctor is not willing to compromise or discuss alternative solutions.

The formulation is always recognised as a defensive manoeuvre, which in turn – depending on the patient’s personality type – provokes a defensive reaction, so that subsequent communication is disrupted. In this way, less than half of what is subsequently said actually sticks with the patient, because anger or upset limits his attention.

Simple solutions

As a general rule, patients want to be advised by their practitioner, but not reprimanded or corrected. This is another reason why it is necessary to use other ways to keep a conversation going without sending negative or dismissive signals. For example, one can

  • in the simplest case, say „Yes, and…“ to present an alternative point of view or
  • „I understand what you are saying, my experience is that…“ to express one’s opinion in a positive and cooperative way,
  • but also the retort: „…that is an important aspect, at the same time we have to consider that…“ is helpful.

There are many other formulations, the choice of which is determined by the topic; there is no standard. It is only important to make constructive and positive statements.