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Here are three simple adjustments that can help you ensure others understand what you're trying to convey.
Most practitioners are proficient at communicating in lay terms to clarify common medical terminology and idioms. But there are other things some doctors inadvertently do that can compromise their credibility. Here are three easy adjustments you can make to ensure you’re coming across loud and clear.
Be mindful of your body language
Your body is talking even when your mouth is shut. The question is, do you know what it’s saying?
Elements of body language can enhance or diminish the level of confidence you aim to characterize, but many of us are unaware of the subtle messages we send through our posture, our gestures, and even our grooming and clothing. Something as simple as donning a stained lab coat, constantly fidgeting with a pen, or not making eye contact can veer patients and colleagues away from hearing the vital information you have to share. That’s why it’s important to stand tall, smile sincerely, and enter the examination room with a welcoming physical presence.
When it comes to clothing, medical fashion has undergone a major shift. Scrubs and sneakers are far more common than suits and dress shoes in hospitals hallways, and this casual style has also been adopted in many medical offices. It’s not unusual for patients to be met by physicians and staff who are wearing contemporary ensembles of tights, tunics, and tennis shoes or khakis, collarless shirts, and clogs.
The choice is yours. No matter what you wear, make sure it checks these three boxes: it’s clean, it fits, and it’s in line with the level of professionalism you want to represent.
Monitor the tone of your correspondence
If you’re feeling misunderstood by colleagues and patients, the tone of your electronic communication could be to blame. Just like our personalities, our correspondence has its own character. While e-mail itself hasn’t really changed much since its inception, our expectations about immediacy have. Text and direct messages have only added to the accelerated cadence of communication. A lack of time coupled with a shortage of patience can lead to an abundance of terseness.
Because of our ability to connect with one another instantly, everything we do has a heightened sense of urgency. We want answers, and we want them now! This can lead us to write perfunctory notes that we send quickly without considering the tone and quality of the content. Though usually meant to be efficient, brusque correspondence can easily be misinterpreted as unsympathetic, confrontational, or even hostile.
It’s a short leap from curt to courteous, and while we can’t change the way other people communicate, we can modify our own habits by taking more time to think through what we have to share and how we want to share it. Consistently including salutations, bullet points, short paragraphs, and clear expectations enhances the tone of e-mail conversations dramatically.
We can also shift our perspective when we’re on the receiving end of blunt correspondence by considering the source. Don’t take it personally! Some people simply don’t have the desire or skills to craft well-thought-out messages, even though making the effort to do that from the beginning would ultimately save all parties time in the long run.
Call patients by name
Excellent medical communication relies on one’s ability to engage with patients using considerate language. Not only does that demonstrate respect, it also honors their position, both intellectually and in life. The foundation of that respect begins with how you greet them.
Not all patients appreciate being addressed with a term of endearment like hon, dear, sweetie, love, or old fella. While some people find such terms charming, most grit their teeth every time they hear them.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t address someone by one of those monikers in an e-mail, it’s best not to call them that to their face.
Instead, refer to people by the name that appears on their chart or in your appointment calendar. Better yet, ask your patients how they prefer to be addressed and make a note of it. You’ll find that some wish to be called by their honorific, like Mr., Ms., or Dr., while others go by a name that’s different than what appears on their records. And if you want patients to call you by your first name, let them know. Some will find it impossible to do, but others will welcome your casual approach.
In never hurts to ask for feedback about how you come across to others. Many of us are unaware of our irritating habits, inappropriate wardrobe choices, or gruff communication style. Awareness is the key to mastering your messaging.
Sue Jacques is a professionalism expert, keynote speaker, consultant, and author who specializes in medical and corporate civility. A veteran forensic medical death investigator, Sue now helps people and practices prosper through professionalism. www.SueJacques.com Social: @TheSueJacques