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Communication Strategies for a Successful Practice

Hull, Raymond H. PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000516778.69034.05
Practice Management

Dr. Hull is a professor of communication sciences and disorders, and the coordinator of the Doctor of Audiology Program at Wichita State University in Wichita, KS. He has published books on rehabilitative audiology and interpersonal communication.

The critical nature of communication influences the success of any work environment, whether it be an audiology clinic, a hospital, or any business venture. Since the 1990s, companies have become dependent on e-mail as their primary connection with colleagues and patients. Even employees sitting a cubicle apart are sending e-mails instead of talking to each other. Effective communication is critical to an organization's success; what follows are suggestions on how we can improve communication in the workplace.

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ESTABLISH FACE-TO-FACE COMMUNICATION

Communication specialists have observed that people have become so dependent on computers and cellphones that we have neglected, or even lost, the art of conversation—of actually talking to one another. The problem is that up to 70 percent of the meaning of what we say comes from our facial expression and body language. If we take smiles and gestures out of the picture and only interact online, the recipient of our messages may get the wrong idea, especially if the sender is not an articulate writer. Some ways to overcome this is to pick up the phone and make a call once in a while, or walk down the hallway to talk to colleagues or employees face-to-face.

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DEVELOP GOOD LISTENING SKILLS

A common barrier to communication in the workplace is poor listening skills. How does this manifest? We may be distracted with other thoughts. We may be listening but appear not to be because we're not directly attending to the person talking to us. We may be constantly glancing at our watch or a clock on the wall instead of paying attention. There are various circumstances where people show poor listening skills.

To correct this, make sure to face the person you are speaking with and reflect on what he or she is saying by responding with attentive nods and thoughtful remarks like “Let me see if I understand what you are saying,” then repeat portions of what you've heard.

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CONSIDER DIVERSE PERCEPTIONS

Having different perceptions is a constant challenge in the workplace. But people look at the world differently. Don't let varied perceptions become a barrier to communication by recognizing that there are always many viewpoints and opinions among those with whom we work. By listening to these diverse perceptions, we may actually get new ideas or approaches to problem-solving.

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BEWARE OF MICROMANAGING

Everyone has encountered at least one micromanager in their career. Micromanagers are like shadows lurking in the background, making sure everyone is doing his or her job. They appear to feel as though they've hired incompetent employees. However, micromanaging may have adverse effects on employees’ morale and productivity.

When employees feel they have control of their responsibilities, they tend to feel a sense of purpose and become more invested in doing an excellent job. Employees are notably encouraged when managers provide them with the tools and freedom to accomplish their tasks. Managers need to remember this if they want the most productive workforce.

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THE ATMOSPHERE OF COMMUNICATION

The atmosphere of communication is another critical aspect leading to the success of an audiology practice. Many of our day-to-day interactions with patients and employees involve different forms of communication. But interpersonal communication goes beyond just talking; it is the creation of an “atmosphere” of communication that results in a positive and constructive work environment. It enables an environment that promotes productivity and creativity. And the better we are at creating such an environment, the more successful our organization will become.

People are usually drawn to others who make them feel most comfortable, those with whom they are able to communicate in a positive and supportive manner. In the work environment, successful interpersonal communication depends on what we say and do when interacting with others. What we do may involve our body language, gestures, eye contact, and more importantly, the manner in which we listen to the person talking to us. Good listeners become good leaders.

I usually tell my audience, “Whether we like it or not, we live in a world full of people who do not communicate well. We live in a world with people who may not possess the knowledge or skill to be good communicators. It is simply that many people, including many bosses, may possess communication habits that are less than desirable.”

Several factors may make it difficult to create a good atmosphere for successful communication. For example, some people may be poor listeners. Listening is a skill that is learned. Good listeners do the following:

* They give the speaker (the one to whom they are listening) cues to note that they are listening.

* They tend to act empathetic and responsive to what another person is saying by, for example, making eye contact with no side glances.

* They offer verbal expressions of feeling, such as, “That must have made you very angry.”

Some people may have poor body language when communicating—they put their hands in their pockets, constantly shuffle their feet, make poor eye contact, and hunch their shoulders. These gestures usually indicate disinterest in what another person is saying.

Another undesirable habit that makes communication unsuccessful is interrupting conversations. Some people tend to interject their opinion even when the person speaking is not done. On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who are not responsive at all and fail to respond to missed calls, voicemails, or emails. Either way, these show an uncaring attitude and poor communication skills that can negatively affect the interactive dynamics in the workplace.

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PUBLIC RELATIONS AND IMAGE

The art of public relations and image development is another component of successful communication in the workplace, though understood from a slightly different angle. The ability of an audiology practice to satisfy patients can make or break a business. The practice must demonstrate high-quality services, with sincere efforts that assures long-term assistance. If the professional services being provided are of the highest quality, the practice should do well, right?

Not necessarily. Many medical practices and businesses run by people with the knowledge and skills to be successful do not achieve higher levels of success because of their poor public image. Enhancing your professional image through the art of public relations involves high-level communication that is critical to the success of your practice. Below are useful tips to develop the image and public relations of an audiology practice.

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Practical Tips to Develop Your Practice's Image and Public Relations

* No matter how bad the day is, don't place it on your patients or associates by telling them about it.

* Be appropriate in all behaviors—no off-color jokes or remarks no matter how innocent they appear to you.

* Be pleasant and empathetic. Be a genuinely good person.

* Be a good ambassador for your profession.

* If an unsatisfied patient comes to you for a refund or some other demands, take a moment to think—if I were the patient, how would I want this handled? How would I respond if that person was my relative or my friend?

* Always remember this rule: We are here to serve, not to judge.

* Work hard to be a flexible and creative problem-solver.

* Affirm your commitment to serving people and how much you enjoy the opportunity.

* Listen carefully to what the other person is saying no matter how urgently you want them to know that you already have the solution to their problem.

* When listening, never look at your watch.

* Be empathetic but never respond by saying, “I know just how you feel,” unless you have clearly experienced what the other person is expressing.

* Speak at a slightly slower rate than your usual speed of speech. Speaking slowly helps you articulate and be clearly understood.

* Maintain good eye contact, but do not stare at the person with whom you are speaking. For best eye contact, concentrate on the other person's nose. Do not look into their eyes; that level of intimacy may not be appropriate at the workplace.

* Remember what Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, taught us: “There is only one boss—the customer.” Note his three rules for success in business:

* Rule No. 1: The customer is always right.

* Rule No. 2: The customer is always right.

* Rule No. 3: The customer is always right.

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