Communication Coaching

             for Better Healthcare

Responding to Emotion

Presentation session at 2017 Patient Experience Summit
© 2017 PRN Consulting 


Healthcare providers often find themselves in very emotional conversations-- with patients, with co-workers, and like everyone else,  with family and friends.  When the person you're talking with is experiencing strong feelings of grief, anger, fear, etc. it's easy to feel helpless and frustrated.  Even if you want to be kind, finding the right words can be challenging.  

If you have important information that could be helpful to a patient's perspective, there's a temptation to minimize the emotion and move on to the information.  After all, if you solve the problem, maybe the emotion will go away, right?

Unfortunately, that approach rarely works.  Emotion can prevent a listener from taking in what you're saying, even if they seem to hear.  And unmet emotional needs can resurface and sabotage rapport, causing the conversation to become more complicated.  So how can you respond to emotion most efficiently and effectively, before transitioning to information sharing?

PRN Consulting offers a workshop specifically on responding to strong emotion in situations where you need to discuss serious news, deal with someone who's angry, or comfort a person in tears without resorting to empty platitudes.  These simple techniques can help build rapport and efficiently move the conversation to a place where the listener can actually focus on the information you need to give.

Based on the work of specialists in psychology and communication, PRN developed a process for this purpose that can be learned in a brief, interactive presentation, then practiced in immersive learning sessions with our Coaching Partners.


Responding to Emotion  is taught in a workshop setting, where participants discuss personal experiences with challenging emotional conversations, and explore how the "NEEDS" protocol can best be adapted for their use.  We also discuss when it's time to get help for situations that may pose a security risk, and how to respond when de-escalation isn't working.

After introducing the "NEEDS" communication tool, we practice elements of the protocol as a group.  Then each person customizes a 'script' of the elements you feel most comfortable trying.  Next, we interact with skilled Coaching Partners who simulate conversations that offer real-life challenges-- and you'll have your notes to fall back on.  You can time out, back up and try again, and get supportive suggestions from the group and your facilitator.  

The debrief session is where even deeper learning happens-- discussing our immersive learning experiences together, and brainstorming ways to use the protocol in daily practice embeds the information in practical terms.

By the end of the workshop, you will have practiced this technique in several ways, and won't need your notes to respond to emotional patterns in a conversation.  After the workshop, participants report feeling much better prepared to approach emotional conversations with patients, co-workers, even those in their personal life.

Responding to Emotion  was first presented at the 2017 Dignity Health Patient Experience Summit by PRN Consulting, and has since been used to train other groups in this important communication skill.   This work is licensed under Creative Commons for attribution and non-commercial use.  PRN Consulting offers workshops, webinars and free consultation services to organizations that want to develop communication skills in healthcare and in everyday life.

© 2017 PRN Consulting                                                               META Toolkit™ Workshop