No matter what profession you are in, having uncomfortable and difficult conversations is something you have to get used to. Tim Ferris said in his bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek (which I’d highly recommend), “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
It could be with another colleague, a client or customer. Even in your personal life too; the same rule applies. In the case of health care, the physician-patient dynamic is somewhat unique and needs to be dealt with a little differently.
I want to share a communication technique that you can use when having some difficult conversations. I call it: Putting it all on the other person. It goes something like this: You are in a position as a supervisor that you have to give feedback to a junior about their performance. You have some important and candid feedback to give. Many people don’t find these conversations particularly easy. Before launching into the discussion, when you sit down with the other person, the first thing you should do is ask a question like:
“How do you think you’ve done?”
“What do you feel about your performance?”
“Is there anything you feel like you could have done better?”
In a vast majority of cases, perhaps even 9 out of 10, most people will either give you the answer themselves, or at least provide a truthful springboard on which you can provide the feedback you need. This doesn’t mean that you are beating around the bush or not giving the direct comments you should be — but is a very useful communication technique that you can utilize.
I’ll give you another example that I use when talking to my patients about weight loss. Statistics show a staggering 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. It’s a conversation physicians need to be having frequently. When I go over a patient’s weight and lifestyle habits, rather than diving into judging them or telling them that they absolutely must lose weight for the sake of their health, I simply ask him or her: “What do you think your ideal weight is?”
I can tell you nearly every single time, patients themselves will quote a figure that would take them to their ideal body mass index (BMI), and we can then have an honest discussion about lifestyle changes they need to implement. They have already told me on their own, and it’s also good because it gets them thinking about what they need to do better. I will often follow-up by saying: “What do you think is stopping you from achieving your ideal weight?” Again, voila, they will usually literally take the words out of my mouth!
Ultimately, putting it all on the other person is simply about getting people to think more about what they should be doing in any situation, and allowing them to take more ownership and control over improving whatever it is that needs to be done. And there’s something very self-empowering about that too.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author, and an independent health care experience and communication consultant. He is co-founder, DocsDox.
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