As a physician leader, you play a significant role in a healthcare organization’s culture and success. You’re responsible for maintaining healthy relationships with your staff, peers and the patients you serve.
Leaders often face a variety of challenges as they navigate the relatively uncharted territory between provider and manager-mentor — and overcoming these hurdles generally requires communication skills that most physicians don’t learn in medical school. To help you increase your effectiveness as a physician leader, here are four critical communication skills you should work to expand.
1. Active Listening
Communication between team members or between patients and physicians is just as much about hearing the other person as it is about being heard. Listening to others and showing you’re absorbing what they have to say shows respect and fosters trust.There are two ways to show you’re actively listening:
- Verbal This refers to the words you use. Be sure to use phrases like “Yes, I understand,” and “Thank you for sharing that information.”
- Non-verbal This refers to body language, stance, positioning, facial expression and movement. When someone is talking to you, be sure to face them, maintain eye contact and nod to show you understand what they’re saying.
After someone has finished sharing information, respond by summarizing what they said to show you were listening. Repeat what you understand you’ve heard, and then ask questions if you need additional clarification.
2. Conflict Management
As a leader, it’s up to you to find a solution to conflicts before they erupt into a mess. Stay aware of issues that arise between staff members, as well as between staff members and patients. In some cases, you may need to act as a mediator to help diffuse tensions, while in other cases, you may need to take disciplinary measures or involve other parties.Solutions aren’t always instantaneous, and you may need to take your time to identify the problem and reach a resolution. The last thing you want to do is give an ill-informed or clumsy response, especially in touchy situations. Your strength is in your ability to provide a rational solution, not always an immediate one.
Promptly responding to others isn’t just a cornerstone of effective communication, it also helps you stay on top of your responsibilities. As questions, concerns and requests come your way, always take time to reply and acknowledge them as quickly as possible. Failing to respond can make you appear ill-prepared for your responsibilities as a physician leader and can also set a poor example for those that report to you. Of course, doctor-patient communication trumps all other requests, which can sometimes delay responses to your staff and peers. But it’s crucial you make a habit of consistently responding to communications.
4. Team development and feedback
One of the best ways to invest your time is getting to know your team. Understanding those with whom you share your day-to-day is essential for effective and efficient communication. Allowing your staff and team members to express their concerns not only gives them a voice, but it also helps physician leaders to identify areas for improvements.
Also, while you may be accustomed to giving feedback, it’s crucial you’re able to receive it, too. By regularly asking your team how you’re doing and how you can help them better reach their goals, they’ll feel more comfortable providing their assessments. Instead of getting defensive or upset, take time to consider how you can use their feedback to become a more effective leader.
Communication skills are vital for success as a physician leader. However, as with any new skill, effective communication takes practice. By making an effort to develop in these four areas, you can help foster a better culture and create better experiences for your staff as well as your patients.