Communication is the cornerstone of our lives. It is how we are able to express our needs and desires to ourselves and others. It is the foundation of relationships. Relationships exist in many forms between people. Communication is key to the doctor-patient relationship, which is the focus of this article. It is the art of medicine. The extremely low birthweight premature baby in the NICU is able to use nonverbal signs to communicate his or her needs to the medical team and to his or her parents. For that premature baby, not one word is spoken, yet volumes are heard, understood, and acted upon. This demonstrates the power of effective communication when the listener is able to understand the message clearly.
Using these 3 steps allows you to connect and influence others in an effective way.
1. Know your audience.
Knowing your audience is not new information. The problem is that we seldom take the time to know to whom we are speaking. In medicine this is vital because the emotions, the perceptions, and the knowledge that a patient and his or her family have, greatly affects what they are willing to hear from the healthcare provider. Sharing test results to a family anxiously awaiting better news from the doctor becomes challenging when the news is not good. Everyone listens through filters. Awareness of the listener's filters and possible objections will allow you to address them in the conversation. Acknowledging and validating the listener's experience allows you to meet them where they are and provide the listener with what he or she really needs.
2. Know your yourself.
What is your agenda? What is the outcome you are hoping for when speaking to another? Again, this is not new information, yet it is seldom applied. When we do not take the time to become detached from the outcome, our own agenda shines through in the conversation. A truly effective communicator is able to provide the necessary information the listener needs in order to make the best decision for himself, herself, or the family member. In the medical setting, this preserves the patient's autonomy. Before engaging in a sensitive conversation with a patient, ask yourself: How are your previous experiences influencing your message? How is your agenda and the patient's agenda similar or different? What emotional response are you having toward the information to be delivered? How can you detach from the outcome to yield the best result for the listener? How can you be even more objective?
3. Know the content of the conversation.
Be prepared. This may seem like a simple step, but people often come to conversations unprepared. Do you need a few minutes to gather information to communicate effectively with your colleagues, patients, parents, and even to have more clarity for yourself? A great listener listens for what is being said and what is not being said. They are 'reading between the lines'. The effective communicator knows this and is able to fill in the lines for the listener. Mastering the content and delivering it in a confident manner builds trust and a foundation for understanding. This allows for the listener to truly hear what is being said, rather than focus on what they are not being told. When a listener is focusing more on what is not being said, doubt creeps in. When this occurs, the lines of communication are broken.
These 3 steps are the foundation to enhancing your communication skills. The steps shift the focus away from the speaker and towards the listener who is hungry for vital information and support on their medical journey. Be an effective communicator. You empower others with knowledge.