The ability to listen closely and articulate ideas effectively
What is it?
Effective communication occurs when one person transmits a message that is accurately understood by those who are listening. To understand what another person is saying is at the heart of meaningful dialog. Once one person understands the message, he or she can respond appropriately. The focus here is on the communication between physicians and patients.
Why is it important?
Communication is the life blood of teams, departments, and organizations. Without good communication, inefficiency and frustrations are likely to occur. What happens when an attending doesn’t communicate clear expectations to an intern and then gets frustrated when the intern doesn’t deliver proper care to the patient? Everyone is frustrated and worse yet, the task never got completed so the organization and patients suffer as well. Effective communication at the individual, team, and corporate level is a prerequisite for success.
The first thing we can do to improve our communication skills is to learn to be a better listener. We must seek first to understand before being understood. Two excellent skills that are sure to improve our ability to listen are the use of probing questions and paraphrasing. Probing questions are open-ended questions that help us understand what another person is saying. We can ask a patient, “Tell me more about the activities you participated in leading up to the chest pain?” or “What do you mean when you say the pain occurs frequently?” Another skill is to paraphrase what we think we’ve heard. “So, you think we should complete an x-ray to confirm the preliminary findings? Am I hearing you correctly?” Once you’ve arrived at an accurate understanding, you can respond appropriately. Either way, the quality of communication is enhanced.
Secondly, we need to have the courage to assert our own ideas. To do so, we should have hard data or compelling evidence that supports our position. Another way to make a persuasive argument is to use anecdotes or case studies to make our point. Both methods can be effective but the bottom line is to provide support for your ideas. This is important in the healthcare setting as physicians may take a different approach from you and you may need to support your thoughts for what you deem to be the most effective practice. This is also a skill necessary to communicate effectively with patients because they may question the effectiveness of your care or the choices you are making.
Adapt Your Style
Finally, we need to understand our audience in order to communicate effectively. Presenting to your team might need a different communication style than sharing ideas and information with your patient. We must adapt the content, tone and style based upon what is most appropriate for our audience. Often the jargon used in the operating room with your peers is not appropriate for the patients and their families; lay language and a different tone may be more applicable.