Tips on Improving Your Communication Skills

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Are You Listening?
Tips on Improving Your
Communication Skills
May B. Piotrowski
No matter where you go or what you do, Failure to Communicate
communication is essential to reach a
Work orders were overflowing and the phone was
destination or accomplish a goal. Effective
ringing off the hook. Some BMETs were pulled from
communication has occurred when both sender and
their normal assignments to help with repairs. A BMET
receiver interpret a message in the same way.
who repaired a device left the floor and failed to tell
“An effective communicator is skilled in the art of
anyone that the device has been repaired. About 30
‘connecting’ and ‘getting in touch’ with others,” says
minutes later, another member of the team repaired the
Robert Atkin, associate professor of business
same device.
administration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz
“Not spreading the word only spreads confusion and
Graduate School of Business.
in some cases could breed distrust,” says Mike Mastro,
BMETs turn to their communication skills each time
CBET, CRES, director of biomedical engineering at
they are asked to examine a piece of equipment. To
South Jersey Healthcare. “Communication is vital to
determine what’s wrong, they require the end user to
having any department run smoothly and efficiently.”
recount the sequence of events leading up to the time
Failure to communicate a repair status to an end user
when the equipment malfunctioned.
is a common occurrence in the field, according to Ken
During this stage, a communication breakdown may
Maddock, BSEET, director of clinical technology
occur and as a result create roadblocks for both parties.
services at Baylor Health Care System. “Develop formal
“The demands of learning to operate and maintain
methods for communicating internally and externally,”
health care technology can put a considerable strain on
advises Maddock. “Don’t rely on word of mouth or
relationships of clinicians and biomedical technicians,”
notes left on equipment for critical communications
according to Chris Johnson’s BI&T
with clinical staff.”
“Communication Breakdown Between Users and
Maddock suggests for clinical engineering
Suppliers of Clinical Technology.” (Vol. 38, No. 1, p. 54)
departments to sit down with clinical managers to
To establish a connection, BMETs should understand
establish a communication plan. This plan will not only
what messages the end user is willing (and not willing) to
ensure that everyone is on the same page, it will also “get
accept, a concept Atkin says is crucial for a
the information into the right person’s hands as soon as
communicator to connect with an audience.
possible,” says Maddock. “As soon as a technician
“Effective communicators are not only experts in
becomes aware of a safety issue, it should be
their field—they also know their audience,” says Phyllis
communicated to the manager.”
Davis, search consultant for the Aegis Group, a
Michigan-based search firm specializing in recruitment
Conflict Resolution
of health care personnel. “Communicators must have
Handling a conflict among employees can be a difficult
the ‘talent’ or acquired skill to listen to their audience to
task. Supervisors often find themselves resolving petty
succinctly address issues,” she adds.
differences. Petty or not, “the important thing is for a
Atkin agrees that listening is a must to get a speaker’s
supervisor to remain objective,” says Mastro. “Don’t
message across. “I don’t think you can communicate
immediately view the conflict as a negative experience
well until you have first learned to listen well,” says
because good things could come of it.”
For Mastro, he views problems between employees as
“growing pains.” “Whenever a conflict comes up, I sit
down and listen to each side of the story. Afterwards, I
May Piotrowski is managing editor of BI&T.
develop a mutual resolution,” says Mastro. “The
Biomedical Instrumentation &Technology

Tips on Improving Your Communication Skills
outcome doesn’t always leave both sides happy, but as a
survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz
supervisor, you must remember it isn’t all about the
Business School. The survey of more than 50,000
needs of one person but rather the department as a
employers shows that, in addition to an ability to work
with others, communication skills are contributing
Maddock’s conflict resolution strategy includes
factors to job success.
giving each person a chance to tell the other—without
Through constant evaluation and practice, one can
interruption—what they consider the problem to be.
sharpen his/her communication skills. “For some,
“After both parties have a chance to speak, the next step
communicating is natural,” says Davis. “But for the
is mediation,” says Maddock. “But even if it appears that
skilled communicator, it’s a perfected art.”
the interaction is successful, it’s important to follow up.”
For Maddock, one way to prevent future conflicts is by
Do’s and Don’ts
establishing a shared incentive for completing a project.
Atkin says misunderstandings can stem from personal
characteristics, lack of candor, or an unwillingness or
Listening first before talking is such a basic concept,
yet we all need to be reminded. Here’s a short list of
inability to adjust communication methods. To
basic communication concepts to jog your memory:
communicate effectively, both parties should commit
themselves to breaking down any barriers that may
exist—these include poor listening skills, too much
• Listen. Allow the speaker to finish his/her thought
confidence (or lack of), and assumptions.
before sharing your opinion.
“The most common source of miscommunication is
• Keep things civil. If the conversation is headed toward
assumption,” says Davis. She strongly advises that
a heated argument, it’s best to continue the
speakers should never assume everyone has taken their
conversation when both parties are less stressed.
point as it was originally meant.
• Look attentive. A subtle nod is enough to provide the
speaker feedback that his/her audience is taking in
Communication Skills and
Job Performance
• Offer specifics. Detailing your reasons on why you
“Whether we want to believe it or not, our customers
disagree with a person’s opinion or conclusion may
are nurses, physicians, patients, and administration,”
clear the air of ambiguity.
says Mastro. “Happy customers mean satisfied
• Share knowledge. Sometimes a person may not be
customers. Satisfying anyone can be a tall order, but
aware of a process, impeding him/her to understand
BMETs and CEs should strive to do their best.” For
where you are coming from.
Mastro, establishing a level of trust and maintaining it is
important. “Good communication skills lead to this
level of trust because the end user feels that we keep
• Rush to dismiss other people’s opinions even if you
them in the loop at all times.”
disagree with them.
During the hiring process, “supervisors have a
• Come across as someone who knows everything.
tendency to focus on technical skills and as a result
People tend to hold back information from a perceived
overlook communication skills and attitude,” says
Maddock. “Once on the job, supervisors should set
• Raise your voice. Intentionally or unintentionally, an
specific expectations for when and where communications
elevated voice could intimidate the person you are
are expected to happen and in what format.”
trying to work with. He/she could either raise his/her
Supervisors should recognize employees who can
voice back at you or simply clam up. As a result,
provide accurate, succinct information in a timely
nothing will be resolved.
manner. In the biomed field, these are some of the skills
• Personalize conflicts. Instead of approaching the
that keep customers happy, according to Maddock.
conversation with a “me versus you” mentality,
“Medical device end users want to know what’s going
approach it with an “us versus the problem” mindset.
on. If they know what’s going on, they can usually work
• Be sarcastic. While humor may diffuse tense moments,
around any problems,” says Maddock.
sarcasm won’t go over well with someone who is
Communications skills were cited as one of the
frustrated trying to explain a problem.
deciding factors in choosing managers, according to a
January/February 2005