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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Communication: Can you Hear me Now?

Shannon and Weaver in 1949 diagrammed the communication process.

Why should such a simple, well known process cause us so much problem?   Studies has shown that communication delays and failures cause hospitals to lose $12 billion annually, or 2 percent of their average annual revenue.  A 500 bed hospital could save $4 million annually by improving communications (MD Business Gazette 3/09).   
Communication of operations data to those that can impact the data is paramount to operations improvement.  Yet many of our systems make it hard to have that simple task happen.  Supervisory personnel must be committed to making part of every day about communicating with their personnel.  3 questions...What is going well, What is not going well, What can we improve on.  To do that offices must be left unattended, shoes must be put to pavement, phones have to be dialed, meetings have to be cancelled.

Clear expectations have to be communicated.  Every worker must know what are the things that are truly expected of them.  We all talk of transparency.  Transparency really needs to be around the elimination of agendas around how we are judging performance.  We are adults, it's time for open bood tests.

A novel concept around communication is to think before you communicate.  There are 4 types of relevant thinking to communication:
  1. Facts - what are the key points to be communicated.
  2. Form - is the communication likely to be best received in detailed accuracy or sequences of information.
  3. Free Thought - best for creative ideas, start ups, innovation
  4. Feelings - It takes people skills to communicate.  Excellent communicators are trained in customer service and morale building
If possible, during those difficult communications, it is great to communicate from a position of shared values.  What do we all agree on.  On September 9, 2011 we all argeed on patriotism.

So what are the failure points at communication.  Here are a few:

  1. Failure to consider other perspectives.
  2. Choosing the wrong communication method.
  3. Responding defensively.
  4. Failing to share information.
  5. Failing to be direct.
  6. Breaching confidentiality.
  7. Failing to listen.
(adapted from:  

How do you respond when a new team member approaches you and says, "Hey, when I was in Ft. Worth, we did it another way."  Most of us bristle up and want to respond "You ain't in Ft. Worth anymore."  The fact is that the varied experiences of our team members can help expose us to best practices or different practices that no one at our organizations have experienced before. 

I attended a conference several years ago and became very excited about a new concept in how to handle triage patients with a physician working alongside the triage nurse.  I came back and reported to the entire team, sent slides to everyone, the whole deal.  The idea went no where.  A few months later, my physician colleage went to a different conference and heard the same speaker give the same presentation.  At that point, there was immediate buy in.  So sometimes, the messenger counts.  Physicians may hear better from physicians, ED nurses from ED nurses, Police officers from police officers, and so on.

What communication improvements can your team make today?

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