Influence: Your #1 Strategy for … Everything

Publish Date: March 1, 2017

Did you know that greeting a patient with the same facial expression you have when you see your best friend (eyebrows up, eyes wide open, big smile) can help you initiate instant rapport? Try it.

It is very likely that if you follow this approach with genuine body language (good eye contact and facing the patient), and a keen awareness for reactions, you will establish a deeper level of trust that will allow you to get a more thorough patient history, earn the trust of family members (provided you show them equal respect and awareness) and even be more effective in communicating postoperative instructions that can lead to better patient outcomes postdischarge. That’s according to Edmund Tori, DO, FACP, CH, who has been referred to by physician colleagues as the “Patient Whisperer.”

Early in his medical residency, Tori was feeling burned out and explored other career options in his spare time, which exposed him to influencing strategies, such as those used by marketers to sell their products. He began practicing these strategies for improved influence in his medical practice and was amazed by the immediacy and effectiveness of this approach: patients adhered to his recommendations more, colleagues were more receptive to his ideas, even friends and family reacted to him in a more engaged way.

Tori started getting calls from colleagues to calm a patient or explain discharge instructions, encounters he began to call “Influence Consults.”

This powerful effect of influence inspired Tori to study every aspect of influence he could, from hypnosis to professional cons (think Bernie Madoff). From learning the best and the worst of influence in practice, Tori now shares his deep understanding of influence as director of the Center for Health Influence and Engagement, part of the MedStar Institute for Innovation within MedStar Health medical system in Washington and Baltimore, Md. to help all health care providers develop better skills to positively influence patient care.

 “One important feature of influence is that it optimizes communication between people,” Tori explains.

He says he has made it his mission to get health care to realize that its job is influence. He helps others to develop skills of influence so they can positively influence better health for their patients.

Being an influencer isn’t something you need to pay a consultant to teach your staff to do and it doesn’t require extensive education to master, Tori says. “It simply takes time to be aware of yourself and those around you and act in a way that instills genuine trust to help others be their best—skills that can be practiced and have the potential for success in every human to human interaction.”

Here are Tori’s top three ways to build the skills of an effective influencer:

  1. Manage your state:  Be acutely aware of your mood and mindset before interacting with a patient. If you have had an argument with someone or received a negative email, take time to reset in a way that is optimized for you to make sure not to carry any negativity into your patient interaction. It’s important to find the calming technique that works for you, it could be prayer, meditation, taking a deep breath, looking at a picture of your children or even watching a funny online video before you step into a patient’s space.  

  2. Observe: By becoming a master observer you will begin to see a deeper level of interaction and reaction around you. This is an extension of paying closer attention to your own behavior and interactions and it can be a great way to refine your skills for influence. For example, take note when you witness two people in a positive interaction—What are their facial expressions and body language? Taking note of a negative situation can be a learning experience, too. For example, say you are standing in mixed company and someone tells an inappropriate joke. Take note of those around you. Are eyes looking away? Is the joke teller being ignored? These are common signs we give each other when we are displeased and this can help with being more aware in your own conversations.

  3. This awareness of others is also beneficial when building influence with a patient’s family, Tori explains. “For example, if I walk into a patient’s room to explain an x-ray is needed, I may notice the body language of the patient’s wife change. Acknowledging her concern before she has to say anything can help to build trust and increase more effective communication.”

  4. Change the mood: This is a powerful approach for influence that can be helpful in perioperative care. It involves a shift in attitude that can attract someone to listen and engage. For example, if a patient is showing resistance to a postoperative discharge instruction, changing the mood of the conversation to focus on the positive outcome can engage the patient to listen to key steps they will need to follow.

Tori notes in a joking, but also serious manner that changing the mood to a positive and even competitive approach helped him and his wife get their six children to eat broccoli, and like it.Influence, in my opinion, is the highest yield productivity tool on planet Earth,” he adds.

For perioperative nurses, these skills are already being practiced at some level, simply by the practice of nursing care, Tori stresses. He sees the nurses he works with who simply optimize these interactions in small ways such as starting off with a warm greeting and engaged tone of voice getting more productive encounters with patients. “By being more aware of reactions and behaviors, we can be more effective in our work to ensure quality care.”


Learn more about perioperative “Influence, Patient Experience & Staff Satisfaction” in Tori’s presentation at AORN’s Global Surgical Conference & Expo in Boston on April 1 and view his recorded session at the conference Education Hub on April 1 and 4.

Read Tori’s top reads for becoming an influencer:

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

By Chip and Dan Heath

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion


Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

By Robert Cialdini


Stay tuned for Tori’s new book on influence in health care and learn more about Tori’s work within the MedStar Institute for Innovation.