Effective communication starts with the simple things

CIO Insight: Computers in exam rooms help doctors communicate with patients, but only if the doctor already communicates well. For doctors with poor interaction skills, computers exacerbate their problems. Such doctors tended to interact more with the computer and less with the patients.

Which just proves a point. You can have all the tools in the world to help you communicate. But if you’re simply not very good or confident at articulating what you want to communicate, using those tools won’t make you an effective communicator without some help.

This is from one of the first studies to evaluate the impact of computer technology on interactions between patients and physicians, authored by Richard Frankel, a medical sociologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine in the US.

While the study is focused on the medical area, findings like these are universal:

[…] For computers to improve communication, clinicians "have to move to the computer record being seen as an educational tool, not notes to self," said Frankel. Indeed, the skilled communicators did this instinctively. For example, they would tilt computer screens to show patients previous lab results or drug information. They would also clarify any discrepancies between what a patient told them and what appeared on the computer screen.

For less skilled communicators, the computer, rather than the patient, became the focus of the visit. Clinicians seemed confused if a patient described a reason for a visit that differed from that on the computer screen.

That doesn’t mean that poor communicators should shun computers, said Frankel, adding that communication training improves patients’ satisfaction with doctor visits. Clinicians will change when they’re made aware of the issues, he said. "It’s a relatively simple thing to encourage clinicians to turn the screen and make eye contact."

CIO Insight | Computers Make Mumbling Doctors Worse, Good Doctors Better

Apply this situation to any organization where one person has to communicate with another person or groups of people. In my experience, one of the most valuable roles for the organizational communicator is helping others in the organization become effective at communicating, and helping them understand and gain confidence in using the tools at their disposal.

It can start with the simple things as in the last part of the example above. Often, that’s what’s needed to help build confidence in someone as a first step on the road to effective communication.