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I work an introductory job as a technician in a busy hospital. I manage equipment, conduct various tests on patients, and record information I obtain.

Because I’m directly working with the patients, communication is going to be a large part of the process; especially since I want them to be relaxed and comfortable.

Normally it just involves simple descriptions of what I’m doing or questions/answers that are isolated within a medical context. Occasionally though, I’ll receive a personal question.

Most times they’re just simple questions like:

  • How did you start working here?
  • Where are you from?
  • Do you like it here?

Although, there’s a few extra talkative patients who like having more involved conversations. Most of the time, I actually enjoy obligingly answering and responding to what they’re saying.

However, I recently experienced a patient asking me about my relationship status. They were talking about their own child (who was my age) and mentioned how they were getting married and how I stood in that area.

I recently have undergone a pretty rough breakup and talking or thinking about it isn’t something I’m currently comfortable doing with anyone; especially a patient.

For this occasion, I politely smiled and said I’m still single and then told them I had to go check some details (which I did luckily in this case). However, there may be cases where I’m forced to stay there to finish a process. This is a question I expect to be asked more, so I want to narrow down a graceful way towards handling it for the future.

Question

How can I let them know I’m not comfortable with talking about that part of my life?

I don’t want to leave it open to discussion or their pity; subtlety is important to me.

It’s also very important I don’t negatively impress them at all because my job depends on professionalism and keeping patients happy.

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Take some time to compose a standard response. Something like

Oh, my, that's too personal for discussing at work!

Practice saying this out loud into a mirror so that you smile at the right time in it and appear cheerful and reassuring.

Whenever you're asked something you don't want to answer, or discuss further, bring out this sentence. Optionally follow it with a redirect, typically asking them for more about whatever they were just mentioning.

Not everyone even asks things like this, and I think those who do are well aware you don't have to answer. You're not going to get dinged on professionalism or accused of leaving patients unhappy if you keep your private life, well, private.

  • This is very direct. I’m worried that I might make this patient irritated or questioning during the rest of the procedure; making things more cumbersome. I’d rather avoid difficulty by them if that’s possible. People can be especially irrational at hospitals. Ultimately, I agree that my personal life should remain personal. I just want to have an easier time at work. – Anilla Feb 9 at 0:51
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    That's why you practice saying it in a friendly, smiling way. You're not saying OH MY GOD I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU ASKED ME THAT, you're just gently redirecting away from a topic you don't want to discuss. Look, I was plenty irritated during the whole experience - I was scared, most things hurt, and some techs were not gentle. But I didn't get irritated by the way the small talk went. That's just not top of mind in that context. Be pleasant and friendly, and they will not file a complaint or even stop complying with the procedure. – Kate Gregory Feb 9 at 1:17
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    Also, your comment is your own to compose. if you prefer "I really can't talk about that" or "sorry, but I have to keep some mysteries about myself" or "but enough about me, do you like my shoes?" or whatever other gentle pleasant redirection you want to use, go ahead and use that. – Kate Gregory Feb 9 at 1:18
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When I'm confronted with a question Which I don't want to answer or to open a discussion, I do this: I divert the subject. In your case you can shift the personal-mode into a professional-mode relatively easy without being direct or rude.

Here's an example:

Patient: so what about you, are you married? Are you dating anyone.

You: Oh...before this, I want to focus on you right now. Few questions, do you have any allergies? did you completed form 1035B? Now I wish to explain few things about the procedure you're about to take. It's important that you understand how this works. So first...

This way, you're not offending the person, you're staying professional and your focal point is the patient. Stall with questions and take the first exit out.

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    This relies on there being more work stuff to ask, and isn't a practise-able technique. – WendyG Feb 11 at 11:23

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