4 Important Questions to Strengthen Professional Relationships

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Georgianna Donadio, MSc, PhD, has an interesting take on the ills within the healthcare industry. As the director of the Wellesley, Mass.-based National Institute of Whole Health, an accredited post-professional development and continuing education program for credentialed health practitioners, Dr. Donadio has spent more than 30 years studying health behavioral change management in Boston hospitals and other medical centers around the country.

Dr. Donadio's research focuses on healthcare professionals and how they can more effectively communicate with patients and each other. Along with her new book, "Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Lean, Proven Communication Skills," Dr. Donadio recently shared key findings in a webinar from the Association for Healthcare Collaboration.

"What we know is that right now work cultures are being challenged — it is very competitive today and there is a lot of job loss fear," Dr. Donadio said in a separate phone interview. "People feel pitted against one another for jobs and recognition. It has become quite clear, whether it is a hospital culture or corporate culture, there are some very real work relational issues going on. Poor communication is the number one cause of divorce, problems between parents and children and conflicts in the work environment. Communication trumps everything. Without those skills, we really have a hard time getting where we want to go."

Hospital patients and staff respond differently when they are told what to do versus when they are informed or educated about a given situation and what they can do to repair it. "The idea behind the NIWH behavioral change model is for people to be given information that invites them into discernment of what they were willing to participate in," said Dr. Donadio. This is increasingly true for hospital management, as employees are given more opportunities to weigh in on care processes and other elements that affect care delivery.

In "Changing Behavior," Dr. Donadio refers to research from the University of Washington School of Medicine, which identified the four most important questions patients want answered by their healthcare providers. Dr. Donadio said these questions easily translate to any industry or relationship, whether in the board room, C-suite or kitchen table. Healthcare executives and leaders should be especially cognizant of these questions, as they are essential to culture improvement and employee engagement.

1. Are you really listening to me? People don't even realize how often or the degree to which they are distracted, and this is a significant problem in healthcare management and delivery. Harvard research has found 50 percent of the time,  90 percent of us are not paying attention, Dr. Donadio said. An interaction with someone who seems distracted can produce anxiety, frustration and the feeling of disrespect.

2. Can you tell me how this happened?
"This question relates to the individual trying to understand the specifics of what they did to find themselves in this particular situation," Dr. Donadio wrote in Changing Behavior. Generally, people want to know what they did so they know what they have to undo or avoid doing again. This not only relates to medical conditions, but strategic problems within the organization. People are invested in controlling as much as they can about their lives, whether clinically, professionally or personally.

3. Do you care what I know about this issue, or do you just want to tell me what you know? "People don't want to be told what to do. They want to be invited into the dance," Dr. Donadio said in the webinar. This is true not only in patient-physician relationships, but also in meetings between hospital executives and other strategists. An illustrative example of this is the trend in which nurses are appointed to help design care delivery processes and weigh in on hospital design plans, which can significantly alter their work routines.

4. Can you tell me how I can control this situation?
"People are not so much concerned about fixing everything as they are about getting rid of the fear, pain and symptoms," Dr. Donadio said in the webinar. Instead of advising others, it's important for executives and healthcare leaders to ask how they can help their peers or employees achieve more control to make positive changes themselves. 

More Articles on Hospitals and Employees:

Leadership is Central to Healthcare System Reform
5 Tips on Engaging Physicians in Major Process Changes
3 Considerations for a Hospital Employee Engagement Strategy

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