In this era of sound bites and social media do you ever wonder if conversation will go the way of the dinosaur? In my mind, texts and emails are great for providing factual detail, but they just can’t replace the nuance that comes with great dialogue. In physician relations, we assume conversation happens naturally and often it does. But, could it be better, in a way that is more valuable for the doctor? I am back to basics because from time to time we all benefit from attention to what it takes to have a meaningful, authentic conversation.
- Know your doctor before starting the conversation. In other words, genuinely learn more about them through data, their connections in your organization and reviewing past visits. Authentic connection begins with relevant conversation about their needs.
- Align your message. Most doctors aren’t concerned about your need to boost referral numbers; their interest is what’s going on with them and how you can help improve the situation. When you come at a conversation focused on solving their practice needs, rather than achieving your goals, you’ll earn respect. When you’re consistently focused on their best interest, you’ll earn their trust — the cornerstone of every authentic conversation.
- Plan your approach in advance. Know what you want to say and where you want the conversation to go. At the same time, be ready to change course if the doctor wants to talk about something else. Your first objective, in every meeting, is to stay on track with the doctor’s needs. For example, a good way to start is, “Dr. Smith, I wanted to follow up on the employment questions you raised in our last meeting, but before I do, is there anything you want to make sure we discuss?”
- Be clear and specific. Two-way communication is only as good as the reply that comes back. Ambiguity on your part triggers a brief reply from them. On the other hand, asking a relevant and specific question launches a conversation. It also shows doctors that you respect their time. If you aren’t mindful of their time, if you don’t cut to the chase, busy doctors will tune you out well before you’ve said what you wanted to say.
- Personalize your questions. Authentic experiences happen when you inspire someone to think on a human level. Rather than asking about a doctor’s experience with your facility’s cardiology, make your question patient-focused, “Have you had any patients treated in our EP lab in the last couple of weeks?” Or, “With such a large elderly population have you seen an improvement in the recurrence of arterial fibrillation with the new procedure in our EP lab?” The same approach works if you are having a business conversation, “In thinking about that next partner in the practice, does the addition of a Fellow or practicing physician make the most sense to you?”
- Give your full attention. How many times in the last week have you started a conversation only to be interrupted by a cell phone? It’s an instant conversation stopper and immediate rapport breaker. When you’re working hard to develop a relationship with a doctor, give the conversation your undivided attention. If you’re serious about understanding and meeting a doctor’s needs, then no text is worth the disruption.
- Be real. Surely, this seems obvious, but nothing is more destructive to a relationship than delivering a message that sounds “canned” or “contrived.” If your personalities don’t mesh or, for any reason, you can’t authentically engage in conversation, enlist someone in your organization to help out. If it doesn’t feel real to you, it’ll show.
- Be open, empathetic and engaged. Be open to other peoples’ opinions and willing to step in their shoes. Keeping conversation rolling requires that you pay attention, empathize and trust your own intuition. Your goal is to become someone people look forward to seeing, whether it’s because they feel better for the interaction, learn something or come away feeling inspired.
- Be timely. The painful challenge of leaving enough time in your schedule so that you arrive and depart on time is a true sign of respect- or dis-respect. As well, we show respect when we offer timely follow up for the information they share. Consistent messages back from those involved in an issue to say, “We heard you” demonstrates a spirit of responsiveness that should happen in all conversations with those who help our organizations by sharing their perceptions of what works and does not.
If you’re not feeling positive about your recent conversations in the practice, take notes on your past exchanges, study your “normal conversation patterns” and see what’s happening. For example, if the doctor just sees you as someone who stops in, asks how things are going and thanks them, you may need to work hard to establish a new pattern.
Did any of the points above resonate with you? Do you have a colleague who might also value this information? If so feel free to share!