Good communication provides ‘good medicine’

Doctor listeningA woman went to see a doctor – the sixth one in succession – to get another opinion on her anxiety disorder.

Going through her history, the doctor found the woman had been taking a weight loss product. He noted that when she stopped taking the product her symptoms also stopped.

The doctor asked why she hadn’t mentioned this before, to which she replied, she’d “never been asked”. Her previous doctors had all ordered tests without first discussing the problem with the patient.

This true story from a recent article in the New York Times highlighted the need for doctors in the U.S. to improve their communication skills. But I also saw strong parallels and lessons for corporate communications professionals who similarly prescribe communications advice for their clients.

When your client asks you for communications ‘medicine’ it’s tempting to try and impress by providing immediate advice, especially when the answer seems obvious.

In the article, a study found that “on average, physicians wait just 18 seconds before interrupting patients’ narratives of their symptoms.” Hopefully, as professional communicators we’re not as bad as that – or are we?

As a communications specialist there can be pressure to deliver answers quickly. After all, you’re being paid for your specialist skills and knowledge, and time is precious.

But by taking these shortcuts you risk making a superficial diagnosis, administering the wrong medicine and potentially harming the patient.

Going back to the NY Times article, it concludes that, “A good bedside manner is simply good medicine.”

Likewise, the communications client has to be heard in order that we can properly understand and diagnose the communications issue. But the client also has to feel that they are being heard in order that they will open up, and so that we can delve deeper.

In the words of David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor: “The successful professional will listen for what is said and what is unspoken.

“It is necessary to confirm and validate what we have heard. We must not only listen; we must do something to give the client the experience of having been listened to.”

For the original NY Times article, click here 

For tips on advising communications clients see: Use Sherlock Holmes techniques to give good communications advice

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