Learning How to Handle the Overs

By Laurie Guest

Learning how to handle the overs is a skill. What do I mean by over? An “over” is a guest who is over-friendly, over-researched, or overbearing. Let’s start with the over-friendly. Although it doesn’t sound bad when you first mention it, many people may feel uncomfortable with over-friendly guests in the workplace. I find it especially true for young attractive women who feel that patients or customers are crossing the line from friendly banters to pickup lines. However, it certainly is not limited to male offenders. Female guests can be just as guilty of crossing the line. What can you do to get out of these situations? I have a three-step approach.

Remove yourself from the engagement. Walk away to another part of the facility. Busy yourself with other work causing a physical distance between you and the over-friendly. Be sure to stay professional and formal in your word choices when it is appropriate to reengage.

Redirect. When it first starts to sound over the line, redirect with statements like, “Bill, I can’t let you keep talking to me like that. I have to ask that we keep this conversation professional.” Then immediately follow that up with an instruction related to the purpose of the encounter.

Refer to another team member. Discuss with your teammates the guest who makes you feel uncomfortable. If possible, refer the guest to another member of the team who can attend to his or her needs in your place. Over-friendly equals insecurity. Knowing this helps me react appropriately toward this person.

Next, is learning how to handle the over-researched. For example, a patient presents in the exam room loaded with knowledge from the internet. She has a ream of paper that explains the self-diagnoses, the treatment plan, and a brand-new drug that will best work for her. She behaves as if all you have to do is confirm and prescribe.

Health care professionals know that many times this data is going to be off-base or at the very least not the standard of care. The best thing here is for the staff to protect the doctor’s time by acknowledging the work that went into the research, showing appreciation for the participation in their care, and giving assurance that it will be shown to the doctor.

Here is a simple reply that meets all that criteria: “Jane, this is great research you’ve done, and we thank you for taking the time to bring it in today. Now, what I’m going to do is add this to your record, and I’ll be sure Dr. Nelson knows that it’s here. He’s an expert when it comes to diabetic care. I can assure you that he is up to date on all the different options available to you.”

By using a sentence like that, we are able to acknowledge the work that they put into their research. Being proactive and gathering information gives the patient power at a time when he or she will need it. Acknowledging what they’ve done is the best thing you can do.

Finally, we have the overbearing guest. In this category, we find almost every annoying characteristic that’s difficult to handle. Over the years, I have dealt with people who have sworn at me, said cruel things, and even threatened the staff. In my personal life, I’ve dealt with overbearing people by avoiding them or getting away from them as fast as I can. In business, that isn’t a choice. We have to know how to deal with them.

One thing that has really helped me is to see beyond the behavior that annoys and try to remain unaffected by their words. Instead, I let it fall off my back and maybe even look for a chance to use humor. My favorite story about this was the time I was working with a patient who was an older gentleman who seemed to have lost his verbal filter over the years. He said anything that came to mind. I was finishing up his testing when out of the blue, he leaned out from behind the equipment and smirked, “You sure are fat.”

Having been a plus size gal most of my life, this was not news to me, but this overbearing older gentleman’s rude remark caught me off guard. I knew I couldn’t be rude back to him. Instead I went with humor. I stepped back, looked down at myself, and said, “What? I’m fat? You’ve got to be kidding me!” He burst out laughing, and I just went on with my work. My feelings were hurt, but I didn’t show it.

One of my colleagues overheard what he said. She informed the doctor we were working with about what had happened. I found out later that when the doctor got into the room, he shook hands with the man and said, “I’m happy to take care of you today, sir, but I’m going to ask you to treat my team with the respect they deserve. Laurie works very hard for me, and I will not agree to take care of you as a new patient if you won’t agree to be kind to the people I care about.”

The man profusely apologized and asked to speak to me before leaving. He said he was very sorry and didn’t know why he even said such a rude statement. Humor worked for me that day, but as you can tell, I’ll never forget it. More than two decades later when I needed to reflect on a person who was overbearing towards me, he was the man who first came to mind. Overbearing behavior comes from the fear of being incompetent. This gentleman was likely feeling vulnerable in the medical situation he was in, and he chose an overbearing attitude as a way to cope.

What all of these overs have in common is the need for control. They demonstrate that need in a various ways. Knowing how to watch for these behaviors, react appropriately, and remain professional is key.


With over 20 years of experience in the healthcare field followed by success as an entrepreneur, Laurie Guest speaks from a practical point of view on customer service and staff development. Her ability to blend real-life examples with proven action steps, is the reason over three-quarters of her clients ask for an encore appearance. Laurie is known for her quick-wit and slightly sarcastic sense of humor. She will make your pen move and your mind process ideas that impact the bottom line of your business. See more at laurieguest.com.