Being nice, a good communicator (listener), willing to help others is sometimes referred to as “soft skills.” Yet, what is so soft about preventing anger and the additional time (aka money) it takes to calm an upset patient or family? What is so soft about ensuring the flow of patients through our systems goes smoothly without “hiccups” and the cost of delays and/or the overtime for our staff? What is so soft about not having legal counsel or risk managers involved in a lengthy discourse that costs our organization both time and money?

Our patients—their safety and their experiences within our four walls—are our top priorities as health care leaders. Our efficiency and effectiveness ensure we are good stewards of their money and our resources.

That is why patient experience should be front and center when we are hiring staff who are responsible for their care each day. Getting there doesn’t have to be difficult either when we know how to select the right staff.

Behavioral interviewing, an interviewing technique focused more on past experiences than how potential hires would handle future ones, can help to determine how those we are interviewing will interact with patients and their families.

Through effective questioning we can actually predict future behavior—good or bad—because we have all seen examples of employees with superior clinical skills but poor interpersonal skills.

So, what should you ask?

Start by asking interviewees to describe a time when they led a group that failed or did not meet expectations. Another query might be to ask them to describe a situation when they needed to exhibit civility or remain calm despite the odds. Did they? Or did they lose their temper and, in fact, escalate a situation.

With these questions, you’re looking for people who can show concern for others, who allow others to vent and can remain calm when others are upset. In a nutshell: You want new hires who have experience de-escalating the situations that we know our front-line staff experience daily.

This approach requires a change in mindset. You are not looking for the most technically proficient employees. Instead, you want to hire staff who are top-notch technically but can also show concern for others, allow them to vent and find a solution.

As health care leaders, we know that hiring talented, engaged frontline clinical staff who exhibit key behavioral traits will lead to success in meeting patient safety, quality and patient engagement goals and initiatives for our organizations.

It’s just a matter of asking the right questions and interpreting their answers to look for context clues that offer insight into how they will behave when encountering challenging situations with patients and their families.

The Maryland Healthcare Education Institute is offering a program in March, Finding the Right People to Enhance the Patient Experience, that offers insight into hiring people who enhance the patient experience daily. Participants will learn and implement competency-based, behavioral interviewing techniques to create a structured interview format to use at their next interview.