How to overcome failure to communicate
Same-day Surgery Manager
By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
Earnhart & Associates
I have never had a problem letting people know what I think. Is it a curse or a blessing? I’m not sure. But I do know that the operating room is the last place you want to have failure to communicate intentions and failure to give and receive direction.
We have all observed break-downs in communications at work. It happens within family circles, in business dealings, with friends; it just happens sometimes. Much of it can have to do with the individual’s personality. Some of us just don’t like confrontation and, therefore, we don’t speak up when we need to get our point across. While that’s OK, it is not an option in the operating room. With all the changes ahead of us, we need to realize when and how to communicate effectively.
There are, I’m sure, many great articles on the Internet about effective communications skills, but I doubt there are many on how to be effective communicators in surgery. Like many facilities today, we have many new graduates as staff. I watch them frequently and sometimes hold my breath when I see them hold back when they don’t understand something or when they don’t speak up if they see a break in technique. When queried, they often say they didn’t think it was their place to be critical or outspoken because they are "new." Wrong, of course.
That response got me thinking about how many of us interact in surgery. We have interviewed many surgeons in the course of our business in my company: more than 7,500 and counting. Many of our questions to the surgeons are about staffing and efficiency. I am confident that their comments are sincere and honest. The surgeons often will sing praises about staff, from the front desk to PACU and discharge. When they are critical of staff, it is often because of lapses in communication. Communications is a two-way street, and it needs to be active and not passive. The surgeons often admit they don’t let the staff know how they want it done. They just assume that members of the staff know the surgeons’ intentions. Few of us are mind readers.
When was your last staff meeting? I don’t mean a "huddle" or a "timeout." I mean a real staff meeting with all the members of the team present and not texting. If you are like many facilities, they are far too infrequent. With all that is happening in our field, and with the world’s attention on the U.S. healthcare changes now and coming, I cannot imagine an effective and efficient surgical facility that doesn’t need to meet weekly (not weakly!) with their staff. I’m referring to a true staff meeting with a written agenda that allows at least 50% of the time allocated to Q&A and feedback from the staff. Remember when we would have surgeons address the staff to go over their procedures and what their needs were? Remember when we had guest speakers address the group? Seriously, when was the last time? "We don’t have time for that in our facility," is the response I receive most of the time. If you are too busy for weekly staff meetings, then you, above all others, need staff meetings!
Training your staff to ask questions, to challenge, to solicit feedback is an active and ongoing requirement of our jobs. Listening, observing, having confidence in knowing what you are doing, and encouraging, develop communication skills. Make it happen! [Earnhart & Associates is a consulting firm specializing in all aspects of outpatient surgery development and management. Earnhart & Associates’ address is 238 S. Egret Bay Blvd., Suite 285, Houston, TX 77573-2682. Phone: (512) 297.7575. Fax: (512) 233.2979. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.earnhart.com.]