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Managers: How’s Your Bedside Manner?

Addressing the age old problem of ineffectual communication between physicians and their patients, the National Board of Medical Examiners has mandated that each of the 16,000 students who graduate medical school each year in the U.S. must pass a “bedside manner test” before he or she may practice medicine. If they don’t pass the test, they don’t work as doctors. Imagine if managers had to undergo the same ordeal. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

Just what does the bedside manner test involve? Basically, it focuses on what the corporate world refers to as “people skills” or “soft skills”—you know, the skills that are the first items cut from the training budget during tough economic times. These soft skills often include communication and other non-technical abilities that actually help people work more effectively with one another.

For decades, research has shown that employees rarely leave a job because they dislike the actual work; they most often leave because of a personality conflict with their manager. And the biggest contributing factor to this conflict is directly related to communication problems. An employee’s performance can change positively or negatively by as much as 30%—due to the work environment, which of course depends upon the boss’s “bedside manner.”

Proponents of the new Medical Examiners’ bedside manner test (officially known as the “Clinical Skills” test), say that its purpose is to ensure patient safety. Mistakes can occur when physicians don’t take the time to listen to their patients or to understand their concerns. That can be costly—even deadly. Students are tested in three basic areas:
  1. Ability to communicate clearly
  2. Ability to listen without interrupting
  3. Performance of a detailed medical exam

While miscommunication in the business world may not result in actual fatalities, it can create a toxic work environment, which will weaken the bottom line. So, how’s your business bedside manner?  Evaluate yourself in each of the NBME “Clinical Skills””areas:

Communicating clearly to employees

  • How clearly have you conveyed to your employees exactly where the organization is headed this year? Have you clearly communicated the team’s/department’s/organization’s objectives and vision for the year ahead?
  • How clearly have you communicated to each employee the role he or she plays in achieving those objectives?
  • How frequently do you have to repeat instructions?
  • Do you tend to blame the listener for lack of understanding rather than consider that you may have failed to take adequate time to give instructions and ensure clarity?
  • How often do you provide feedback to ensure that what you meant to convey was actually what was heard by the employee?

Listening intently without interruption

  • Do you talk more than listen?
  • Do you often practice “skip thinking,” where you begin to think ahead to what you’re going to say before the other person finishes what he/she has to say?
  • Do you allow others to speak uninterrupted until they have finished?
  • Do you often “tune out” while an employee explains his or her point of view?

Performing a detailed exam

  • Do you examine the issue at hand thoroughly before you make a firm decision?
  • How much data do you gather from others to ensure that you’ve looked at all the angles of a given situation?
  • How well do you ask open questions when gathering information?
  • Are you able to make unbiased decisions?

Soft skills, people skills, business bedside manner—call it what you will. Surely, if the National Board of Medical Examiners considers effective communication a mandatory competency for its professionals, American businesses should as well.

© Bette Price, 2005 All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.