Physicians: You Need to be Skilled in Interpersonal Communications and Set Clear Expectations

Physicians: Set clear expectations with your staff, colleagues, patients, and anyone you supervise. If you struggle with this skill, improve it as part of your professional development. Doing so will increase your effectiveness and enjoyment of medicine.

Getting started
A simple guide for getting started appears in an article by Janice Sabatine, PhD, Managerial Effectiveness: A Quick Guide to Setting Clear Expectations. She says that during your training, you reach your professional level as a result of your many strengths and despite your weaknesses. She warns that it’s not enough to be skilled in your profession. You need to be skilled in interpersonal communication, and that includes setting clear expectations. If you are moving into a leadership role, the need is greater.

First Step
Before beginning the process of setting clear expectations or giving a directive, know your own strengths, weakness, and motivators, says Sabatine.

Strengths: Obviously, your strengths are revealed by what you do that makes a difference in your work. For example, you may know that you are effective at expressing what Sabatine refers to as the “who, what, where, how, and why” when setting expectations.

But to better understand your strengths, consider asking colleagues and clients for feedback.

I often assist my coaching clients with this process and interview their colleagues and staff for feedback. I also have my clients complete an online survey of their behaviors and motivators, which reveals how they are apt to function under stress.

Weaknesses: Your weaknesses can interfere with your organization and career advancement. For example, if you are a medical director who avoids conflict and unpleasant emotions at all costs, you won’t be effective at giving bad news to a struggling physician on your staff. On the other hand, you may be so motivated to know all the answers that others avoid revealing their own uncertainties to you.

In my coaching practice, I see weaknesses as an opportunity to collaborate with my clients on change. So I look closely at what their problem behaviors look like, when they occur, and how they affect others. For example, a physician leader may be excellent at communicating the “who, what, where, how, and why” of a request, but has bad timing or a confusing demeanor.

Motivators: Being aware of what motivates you is important in assessing your own effectiveness. So again, asking for feedback and completing a survey of your motivators can help you get started.

Five essential skills
Sabatine identifies five essential skills for setting clear expectations:

    • Pre-work – Before making a request or directive, consider how your weaknesses could influence your efforts. For example, if you skirt around conflict or use inappropriate voice tone, eye contact, or timing, you should consider practicing more effective behaviors. A coach can help you with feedback and rehearsing effective behaviors. Also, consider what motivates those with whom you are setting an expectation. Determine the “who, what, when, where, why, and how of the task,” says Sabatine.
    • Communication – Actually deliver your expectation.
    • Commitment – Ensure that your message has been conveyed to the other person and that they have agreed to follow your expectations.
    • Consequences – Make sure that the person with whom you are setting an expectation, such as someone you supervise, understands what is at stake for them and the organization.
    • Coaching – After setting an expectation with any person you supervise, consider coaching them. I couldn’t agree more. Coaching involves establishing follow-up, monitoring progress, and reinforcing the person you supervise for even small steps.

Another set of eyes and ears for yourself
And consider hiring a coach for yourself as well. You’ll get another set of eyes and ears and assistance with asking “the right questions,” formulating and rehearsing a strategy, monitoring your progress, and re-examining the “course.”

That’s what I do.

To read Sabatine’s full article, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *