Why Effective Communications Skills Matter in Business, Life and Healthcare

In the last few months, we’ve been slapped in the face with the simple and critical importance of effective communications both in business and in life. Examples from SHIFTers:

  • Example 1 – Recently, I discussed PR goal setting with a prospect. I mistakenly assumed that they understood PR terms like media placement and briefing. This initial misunderstanding of their PR experience led to multiple, time consuming conversations aimed at ensuring that we were all aligned first on terminology and secondarily with outcomes in relation to success.   
  • Example 2 – In taxi from La Guardia airport to our NYC office, I inserted “and” in the address I gave to the driver. I ended up in the Bronx instead of Manhattan.
  • Example 3 – My one-year-old daughter likes to come home each day and point to the clothes hanging on the back of her door. Her pointing is the main mode for communication currently as her babbling capabilities take shape. Nonetheless, when I inevitably pick the wrong item of clothing off the back of the door and hand it to her, a mild temper tantrum ensues.

All too often we have conversations – either live or over email, text and even through social media – and we forget about the basics of effective communications. While seemingly simple, in the harried details of our day-to-day lives, we often skip over one or more of the critical elements of effective communications. Those effective communications elements are as follows:

  • Listen – Seek first to understand. Before you dive into discourse, take the time to understand their perspective, what they are hoping to get out of the conversation and what they specifically need to have a successful exchange of information.
  • Know your audience – We all come from different backgrounds and have varying levels of expertise across broad spectrums of topics and interests. Before engaging, level set on what your audience does or does not know in relation to the topic at hand.
  • Be clear, concise and specific in your message – Oftentimes, we have a tendency to be verbose. In transactional conversations (aka the taxi example above) or business conversations (aka PR goal setting example), it pays to use simplified, direct language to convey your thoughts. Remember, the right words matter. A simple addition of the word “and” can leave you stranded in the Bronx.
  • Mirror and ask questions – When communicating, it’s useful to mirror – summarize and repeat back the information presented – so the person knows that you understand where they are coming from and/or what they are trying to convey. In addition, when communicating, don’t hesitate to pause and ask questions to ensure you haven’t lost your audience along the way.

The importance of effective communications is also increasingly important in the industry where I focus my communications practice – healthcare. With the growing retailization of healthcare and push to arm and empower the consumer, it is clear that the manner by which we discuss and communicate about healthcare issues must be revisited. This is particularly clear when you consider instances in which a healthcare-specific communication can go awry when it comes to the patient and/or consumer: 

  • Clinicians – patient asks for where they can find more information about pregnancy-related issues and insights. Clinician, with only seven minutes to spare per visit, suggests searching the Internet. (Alternative – offer to include a list of specific trusted sites and books to be included in discharge summary, and when patient returns on next visit ask if they were helpful.)
  • Insurers – consumer calls looking for more information on what is and what is not covered for their upcoming knee surgery. Insurer phone representative suggests the consumer visit a page on their website for more details on what is covered. (Alternative – representative talks through the consumers’ questions and offers real-time, specific insights and then follows up via email with the website page and related collateral as additional background materials.)
  • Digital health company – consumer downloads app to help quit smoking. While the app is easy to use, the company does not offer ongoing touch points and content to help educate the consumer on how best to use the app moving forward to maximize impact. (Alternative – add content touch points within the user app to help maximize utilization, and consider a blog to engage users with stories of success from other consumers – as well as tips and best practices specific to the app and smoking cessation.)

Whether you are a healthcare provider looking to better educate and inform patients or a PR professional aiming to engage a prospect or reporter, effective communications is must-have skill. Your ability to master this skill will pay dividends both in business and in life.

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