I’m going to bust out an old fashioned word I learned from Tom Lehrer - "propriety."
the state or quality of conforming to conventionally accepted standards of behavior or morals.
"he always behaved with the utmost propriety"
This may just sound like another way to say “professionalism” but this is a completely different aspect of professionalism than pricing or punctuality. This is where we get into dress codes, comportment, and other things typically found in the employee handbook.
In my opinion, propriety is one of the most controversial aspects of professionalism because it is the most visible. Clothes are tangible. Pricing strategies are not.
Propriety touches a lot of nerves because it's a matter of fitting into social norms and avoiding taboos. In a way some of us are already violating social norms just by doing what we do. In the immortal words of my co-worker April, massage therapists are in the business of “touching naked people for money.” Certainly taboo and a “reason” to be shamed by society. This is why we get to be the butt of “happy endings” jokes (a subject for another time - society’s fear of the naked form is a blog post in itself.
How do taboo breakers like massage therapists and acupuncturists break enough norms to successfully do what we do and remain authentic without driving everyone away?
Get over the idea of attracting everyone - Your job as a practitioner and a business person is to repel as many people (if not more) than you attract. You will never be the best practitioner for everyone and you shouldn’t be. If you try, every treatment will look the same and you’ll have more people leaving your office disappointed than fulfilled.
Being a massage therapist repels people who don’t like being touched. Being a massage therapist who prefers to work skin to skin repels people uncomfortable with undressing. That’s ok. Being an acupuncturist repels people who are afraid of needles, don’t think herbs work or hundreds of other things. That’s ok too! We probably couldn’t have helped each other anyway.
There is a practitioner out there for everyone. The people who you repel will find the person who fits them better.
Dress code consistency matters - In my own practice I wear floor length skirts or jeans with a solid colored shirt. Unless the AC is out, I don’t bare my shoulders. And I don’t wear makeup to work. This is the way I’ve chosen to present myself - hippie and laid back. At the spa, the only things I do differently are 1) not wearing jeans and 2) never baring my shoulders because that is their dress code.
Dress code can communicate two things - your attitude about the practice and your membership in a team. If you’re on your own it’s just the former. If it’s the latter, it becomes vital every member of the team adheres to the dress code or it looks weird. Need to wear a polo? Everybody wears the polo. Requiring khaki pants? Everybody wears khaki pants.
If one group doesn’t have to adhere to the dress code the general public will either judge them as more important than the team (generally management in retail settings vs the average employee) or as not part of the team. This is more common in small business settings. If three-quarters of the clinic staff is dressed in a uniform and one person is not, the outlier is going to be mistaken for a patient at least half the time.
Body art is art and an expression of your authentic self - I have purple hair. I also am stretching my ears and I have a nose ring. I have no tattoos (yet) but they will likely be visible when I get them. I do not want patients or customers who have a problem with the way I express myself. I’m not going to go back to mouse brown hair because I hate it. I’m not going to take my nose ring out because it has a deep and spiritual meaning for me. How I express myself is who I am. If a patient has a problem with that, they have a problem with me and our therapeutic relationship probably won't last that long anyhow.
Basically, I am not going to change who I am just to put money in my pocket.
My favorite example of this is an upperclassman of mine named Troy. Troy is unapologetically and authentically Troy. He is a tattooed, pierced, band shirt wearing Irish punk. What I love about him is that he was authentically Troy in the treatment rooms too. Guess what? His patients loved it. He had people requesting him every time I observed him. His patients had a comfortable rapport with him; they were at ease because he was at ease. When a practitioner is truly themselves in a treatment room, everyone benefits.
We are entrepreneurs for a reason. We went into complementary medicine for a reason. We think outside of the box and that means we will act outside of the box. If you try to put yourself back in to a box and attract clients based on the pretense of being what you project as acceptable, your patients will eventually find out the person they thought they’ve been seeing is actually fake.
Sometimes it’s okay to drop an f-bomb - I’ve sworn in this blog. I’ve sworn on my Facebook page. That’s because I swear. It’s like punctuation - sometimes a good curse word is exactly what you need. I never swear in the treatment room. I’m not afraid of swearing in front of patients. The woo-woo side of me doesn’t like that feel in my treatment room. I’ll swear in the lobby, or in presentations. But in an actual treatment I drop into “visiting my Aunt Becky the Reverend” mode and suddenly “shit” becomes “shucks”.
That’s where I draw the line. It’s 100% unconscious because it’s 100% authentic. Maybe you’ll draw it somewhere else. You do you.
Professionalism comes back to one thing: consistency. Consistently be your authentic self and you’ll attract patients that are ok with the Real You and repel the ones that aren’t. That’s how you will build a stable practice.
Related links and posts:
4 simple ways to build your patients' trust: pricing
4 simple ways to build your patients' trust: punctuality
Being Boss 'Redefining Professional'
Currently (re)reading: "You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life" by Jen Sincero (affiliate link)
I read this last year and it's time to pull it off the shelf again. Jen Sincero has a kickass attitude about life. This has been one of my favorite inspirational, self-help, get moving in life books. Check it out!
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What kind of dress code do you have in your clinic practice?
Jessica Gustafson, L.Ac.
I am an acupuncturist and a mama from the Twin Cities. I needed a place to talk about the nitty gritty of bootstrapping a clinic, parenting and freelancing so I made a blog. Hooray! It was never meant to become what it has, but blogs evolve. I've enjoyed the process and look forward to developing it more as I grow.
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