By Beth Boynton
In applied or medical improv activities, we are always practicing communication skills and building positive relationships in a trusting environment.
With proper facilitation participants practice taking a little more risk, in a safe way to share ideas and build on the ideas of others. Intellectually, these growing edges seem simple. They are not.
Both sides of the communication coin, listening and speaking up involve sharing power and that can be very challenging. Being more assertive means showing ownership , being accountable, and maybe even wrong. Listening more respectfully requires a letting go of control to make room for other people’s ideas and concerns.
If our communication is limited then so too are our relationships. Our collaborative problem-solving will be stunted, we may hold resentments about not feeling heard, we’ll have trouble managing conflict, and ultimately will not be bringing our best selves into our team and leadership roles. Another way to explore how the roots of our communication can impact the system and is to look at three of the principles of complex adaptive i.e. human systems; adaptability, the butterfly effect, and flexibility.
Adaptability refers to the ability of the participants to adapt and learn from changes in their environment. In a high-stakes, high-stress health care environment, we could not be adaptible without consistent, effective and respectful communication.
For example, inviting input on an issue and listening to it is key for engaging staff. Leaders sometimes avoid such engagement, because they assume that staff will expect them to follow all recommendations, which could lead to conflict if they don’t. Instead of validating, considering input and setting limits, they simply avoid asking. Staff who don’t feel heard may become disengaged or use resistance to solutions (consciously or subconsciously) as a passive-aggressive way of being heard. Whereas, many people will accept reasonable limits if they feel heard.
Leaders can also embrace this idea to increase staff accountability for stubborn problems like, for instance, hospital-acquired infections. By asking staff, “What do you need to comply with hand-washing protocols?” and then listening carefully to the responses, they create the conditions for learning new information that might help, and they relay the message that input is valued.
The butterfly effect
The butterfly effect refers to a small event happening in one place, like a butterfly flapping its wings contributing to a large event happening someplace far away, such as a hurricane on the opposite side of the world. The butterfly effect of disrespectful versus respectful communication can be seen in these two health care-related examples:
Emergent behavior refers to how we behave in the moment and in relationship to others. To gossip or not, to offer or take in constructive feedback versus avoiding conflict, or to speak up or remain silent about a concern are soft skills that are intrinsic in each of these behaviors:
These communication-related skills and how they relate to outcomes in healthcare may be hard to see, but now that you know how to look for them, you’ll spot them more easily. As you do, you may see or suspect their impact in the workplace.
Did the nurse who hurt her back ask for help? Was the surgeon receptive to challenges during the wrong-site surgery? Would the resident have fallen if the nurse assistant sat with her for a few minutes and listened to her concerns?
Without getting at the roots of assertiveness and listening we will not have, cannot have the healthiest system we owe our patients and providers.
Looking for your next healthcare speaker? Get in touch with us at the Capitol City Speakers Bureau today to make your healthcare event a success!