Desk Jockey

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I work as receptionist in a physical therapist’s office. My lousy day
started at 7:00 a.m. with a rude and arrogant new patient wanting me
to break office rules. These rules are more than just policy; they
involve laws to protect patient privacy. I was nice and explained that
was he was asking for was simply not possible. But he kept insisting
on special treatment, escalating his tone until he was outright nasty.
Fortunately he’s an exception. But still it was annoying and frustrating.
I am not a doctor but I know what’s possible and what’s not. How can
I keep control and authority?

Desk Jockey

Dear Desk Jockey:

When you are confronted with irrational behavior you need to change
the style of the dialogue. It’s hard not to give into the desire to mirror
the escalation. But here’s a better technique that fighting anger with
anger. Instead respond with politeness, even niceness. Talk more
softly and slowly. Control the pace and tone of the interaction. Don&'t
give in to the arrogance or the entitlement. Be helpful but not servile;
stay firm.

To help prevent the problem in the future, have office rules printed
and clearly posted. No matter how rude the patient, paste a plastic
smile on your face. Continue to play the dutiful helpful role that people
expect from a receptionist. Repeat what you need to say as often as
necessary, so it’s clear you are not going to change your answer
because of badgering. Also, to protect yourself, be very careful not to
mutter any descriptions of character or obscenities loud enough to be
heard when the person walks away. At the end of the day, tell your
practitioner boss so s/he can reaffirm the procedures directly to the
client. Every job involves knuckleheads and knuckleballs. If this is as
bad as it gets you are doing pretty well.