Helping Shy Patients Shine

Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Activities of Daily Living

Shyness, according to the American Psychological Association, is the tendency to feel tense, awkward, or worried in social gatherings, especially with unfamiliar people.

Shyness can be as mild as hesitating a moment before managing a smile and saying hi, or as severe as sweating, blushing, stuttering, or having an upset stomach, just to exchange hellos.

Have you ever wondered how many shy people there are in the world?

Here’s an interesting figure: According to a study by Indiana University, about 40% of adults consider themselves shy. That's two out of five friends, or for those in the healthcare field, two out of five patients. That means that, as a CNA, the probability of caring for a shy patient is also the same.

To be successful while caring for timid patients, CNAs must first learn a few things about them:

1. They feel uneasy in a room full of strangers.

For patients, this means they are tense while waiting in line at the doctor's office or being attended to in the ER. They will hesitate before telling the staff about their health complaints, especially if the unit is very busy.

2. They may be reserved speakers, but they are great observers and listeners.

Shy patients are quiet, and that means they are sensitive to what's happening around them. They are good at reading non-verbal cues and listening to the sounds and conversations around them. As a nursing assistant, you’ll know a patient is shy because they will not initiate a conversation.

3. They have a lot running through their minds, so they usually think (or even rehearse, and then think again) before they speak.

People who are shy tend to reflect on what they say, fearing rejection or judgment from other people. Their lack of spontaneity makes their speech and socialization more awkward. Shy patients are aware of this and often struggle to make a good impression or carry on interesting conversation.

Here are some surefire strategies that CNAs can use while interacting with timid patients:

1. Make them comfortable.

First, your uniform may intimidate them. You are staff, and they are the patient. Because they are shy, they may not think you are easy talk to. Second, entering the room with a stern look is enough to make them hold back and refuse to speak. So, smile and appear as accommodating as possible.

Meet them at eye level, for example, sit on a chair beside them instead of across a table, or by the bedside.

2. Initiate the conversation.

If you don’t, then the room will remain in deafening silence while the patient becomes more nervous and uncomfortable.

3. Relax them with small talk first.

Introduce yourself. Then, ask for the patient's name and how they want to be addressed by you. Avoid overdoing small talk, though, as it will make them feel more awkward.

4. Be patient.

When you ask them how they are feeling, for example, don’t expect an immediate or full response. The patient may also speak very softly, so that you'll strain to hear. At this point, help them feel comfortable and tell them that it's okay to speak louder.

5. Avoid asking close-ended questions.

If you ask questions that are answerable by yes or no, you’ll probably just get a nod or a shake of the head. It is better to ask open-ended questions and make an immediate follow-up. If you don’t get a response, give them time to reply. If silence follows, smile, look at them directly in the eye, and rephrase the question.

6. Offer your assistance.

Tell them, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to press this call button,” or “You can tell me anything that concerns you regarding your health.”

7. Never comment on how shy or quiet the patient seems.

Doing so adds insult to injury and will double their struggle. You should also avoid telling them to be more outgoing. Shy patients already want to be more outgoing, but just can’t bring themselves to open up more spontaneously.

8. Don't take their silence personally.

When all a patient does is whisper and nod their head, or if they seem relieved when the conversation is over, don’t get annoyed with them. They will feel your negative impression and be more hesitant to interact with you the next time.

Nursing assistants are bedside warriors, and as such must have the communication skills to help shy patients shine. Their role makes it possible to help these patients feel more comfortable and be an active member in planning their own care.


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