By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD
Oct. 30, 2019
Communicating with staff, patients and industry partners, like vendors, can be trickier than you realize.
Here are tips to ensure the messages, as you intend them to be interpreted, are communicated to everyone you interact with in managing your practice.
One book that keeps coming to the top of our list on the topic of business communication is: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.i It’s an older book, first published in 2002 with a second edition published in 2012, but the core concepts in this book are among the most important we find ourselves using both in practice and in everyday life.
A Crucial Conversation occurs when opinions differ, emotions are running high and the outcome is significant. This comes in many forms. You may need to talk to an under-performing doctor or staff member, an angry patient or deal with a flaw in a project proposal from a practice manager.
You can tell you are involved in a Crucial Conversation by the symptoms or behaviors you, or the person you talking to, exhibit. Here’s what to look for:
These are the classic signs of stress: sweating, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, stomachache and dry throat.
These generally exhibit as fear or anger.
Think “silence” or “explosion.” Silence occurs when one of you withdraw from the conversation. Explosion occurs most commonly when voices are raised.
How important is recognizing that someone has withdrawn in a Crucial Conversation? VitalSmarts surveyed 1,025 managers and employees about an occasion when they had a concern at work, but failed to speak up. The results were eye opening.ii
Arguing or simply dictating a response doesn’t do any better. Arguing negatively impacts both of you. You might feel better because you got it off your chest, but then you spend time thinking about what was said and what you could have said versus spending that same time moving the practice forward in a healthy way.
The emotional intelligence skill of self-awareness is essential in Crucial Conversations. Start with yourself. Are you exhibiting any of the above symptoms or behaviors? Likewise, because of self-awareness, we must refuse the “Sucker’s Choice.” This is where we justify unhelpful behavior by saying there is no other option – we have to either argue or withdraw from the conversation.
There is a better way. Here are the background steps to go through to have a positive Crucial Conversation:
Identify a common goal: You both need to want the same thing.
Identify what you want: “I want Karen to be more reliable. I’m tired of her being late to work.”
Identify what you don’t want: “I don’t have to have an argument. An argument will cause tension between us and won’t resolve the situation.”
Figure out how to accomplish both: “How can I have an honest discussion with Karen about being more reliable and avoid causing tension?”
Now that you’ve done your background work, follow this four-step path for a positive Crucial Conversation:
1) Make it safe to share
There are two conditions that put safety at risk. These occur when you do not have a common goal or when there is a lack of respect. You must fix these as you start the Crucial Conversation. Often the fix can come from a simple apology.
2) Master your stories and explore theirs with curiosity
This is perhaps one of the most important concepts in Crucial Conversations. We all have stories we created to interpret what we understand about the world around us. We have stories that explain why an eyecare vendor or third-party provider acts the way they do. Some people hold positive stories and some hold negative stories. Which story do you hold about that vendor or third-party provider? Explore your story. Why do you hold that story?
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We all have stories about the person we need to have a Crucial Conversation with that explains their behavior. Explore that story. Why do we hold that story?
When talking to someone else in a Crucial Conversation, spend time understanding their story. Approach their story with curiosity. Do not attack their story. Instead, ask them how they got there.
If you want to see this in action, watch any of the Dr. Jordan Peterson videos when he is talking to someone with a vastly different viewpoint than he holds. You’ll often hear him say things like, “I don’t know much about that, and I’d like to know more” or “Please tell me how you got there because I’d really like to understand this better.” (Contrast that with the Ben Shapiro approach of “facts don’t care about your feelings.”)
In addition to Dr. Peterson’s questions, here are a couple more you can ask to help explore their story: “Do you see this differently?” or “This is how it looked to me, have I misunderstood?”
3) Speak honestly without offending
This is an important and essential skill that must be in your toolbox. Telling only half the story or leaving out important details is not honest. And once someone catches you being dishonest in either conversation or action, it is very difficult to recover. Always remember there are two sides to this – “speak honestly” and “without offending” – and both are equally important.
4) Turn Crucial Conversations into Actions
You are having this Crucial Conversation to fix something, so fix it. Create an action plan that you both agree fixes the problem, then, hold people accountable, or it’s time for another Crucial Conversation.
ii. Grenny, 2017