How often have users of technology sent you reports of failure, bad image quality, intermittent operation, ghosts, etc, that did not clearly explain the situation to enable isolation of the problem? Reports such as, we’re getting an alarm even though the patient is in normal sinus rhythm; the image was grainy, and I couldn’t get the depth I needed; the unit would not charge/discharge during the code; the results were way out of range for the sample; the alarms keep going off for no reason; and/or I can’t access my data, pull up my images.
And, once resolved, how often have you found difficulty in explaining the why’s and what’s associated with the resolution? The technical solution and resolution may be straightforward, but effective exchange of the information surrounding them with those who do not live in your technical world can be difficult. If they could just “get it,” right?
Technical professionals have a difficult job. The profession and primary measure of competency is centered on the assimilation and application of technical knowledge that requires an analytical mind-set and the ability to reason and reach logical conclusions from data provided. A tech’s success is often bookmarked on either end of the application of technical knowledge by their ability to communicate effectively with their clients and peers. The greatest of technical minds may, unfortunately, not achieve their full potential or that of the organization if their communication skills are not as equally developed.
Communication, by definition, is “the imparting or exchange of information, ideas, or feelings,” and, to be effective, it requires “understanding” (to perceive the meaning of) by all parties involved. Often, we mistakenly believe communication has been achieved when we have shared our thoughts, without consideration of the recipient’s understanding, or vice versa. Misunderstandings occur for a number of reasons and may result in reduced productivity, increased costs, delayed completions, and more—all of which potentially compromise patient safety/satisfaction, staff confidence, and profitability.
There are many areas to consider in effective communication. Two areas often overlooked include the cognitive styles involved and an individual’s “model of the world.” Because we all process information differently and we all have our own set of filters that we process information through, the potential of misunderstanding always exists. In work pioneered by Anthony F. Gregorc and Helen B. Ward, and subsequently expanded upon by Innovation House Inc, Columbia, Conn, research suggests that individuals demonstrate a definite manner of thinking or acquiring/valuing information. This research found a duality in the use of concrete and random reference points for thinking and also defined an “ordering duality” in the form of sequential and random thought or learning processes. These two sets of dualities join to form four distinct cognitive or learning patterns: Concrete Sequential—Abstract Sequential, and Concrete Random—Abstract Random. The significance being that each of us takes in and processes information in different ways. For instance, an individual with the characteristics of a Concrete Sequential values linear, deliberate processes and may find it both frustrating and difficult to understand the other’s approach when attempting to communicate with an Abstract Random, who values feelings and intuition. By recognizing that others process and order information differently, we can be more attentive to the style of others and more diligent (and perhaps patient) in communicating.
The second area of consideration is an individual’s “model of the world.” We each have our life experiences that shape how we filter information. At one level, an event is just that—an event. Yet, it’s interpreted differently based upon our model of the world. In the effort to communicate effectively, the challenge becomes ensuring what you have heard or said is received as what was intended. Because language is fraught with generalizations, omissions, and distortions, it is imperative that both parties invest themselves in clarifying what is said to eliminate, or at least reduce, these. This can best be accomplished through using applied listening skills and clarifying questions around statements made, then restating your interpretation to garner acknowledgement of understanding. In short, if you listen for what is there as well as what is not there, you can ask clarifying questions to encourage further detail. Examples of clarifying questions may include: Tell me more about …; Can you be more specific?; What have you tried?; Has this happened before?; What were the circumstances?; and What was happening before, during?
This requires intentional diligence and patience to be fully present in the conversation and to be invested in achieving clarity. Once you believe you have a complete understanding of a situation, repeat it back to the other person using their words, as much as possible, to both give them the confidence that you understand as well as reinforce your own understanding. In so doing, you will enhance your ability to accurately communicate and understand that which is being communicated, thereby improving your ability to accurately and efficiently apply your technical expertise. In the end, errors are reduced, turnaround is improved, and relationships are reinforced.
Matt Williams, ACC, a former biomed, is a business and professional coach with more than 25 years’ experience working with leaders in health care and technology-related fields. For more information, contact .
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