Medicine is clearly a “team sport.” As vein and lymphatic specialists, we know the care of our patients is enhanced by various medical and allied health specialists who contribute their expertise. Yet, we may feel frustrated with the interactions or conflicting information we receive. Since we have the greatest power to change ourselves, let’s consider ways to improve our ability to be a more effective member or leader of the team and harness the collective wisdom for the benefit of our patients.
Listening is our most important skill. As Jerome Groopman, MD describes in How Doctors Think, most physicians listen selectively: we only acknowledge what aligns with our preconceived ideas. With patients, it’s parts of their history that help rule in or rule out particular diagnoses. With consultants, we accept ideas that we believe might be true or reasonable, immediately rejecting the others. Instead, we might listen with a more open mind, allowing any skepticism to trigger more questioning and discussion. In this way, we harvest more of what our consultants have to share and learn to work better with them.
The next time a consultant explains their ideas to you, notice how your mind accepts or discards their ideas and see if you can become curious, rather than immediately rejecting ideas contrary to yours.
Emotional Intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage emotions in ourselves and others, also enhances our effectiveness. Its foundation is self-awareness. By monitoring our feelings, bodily sensations, and impulses to react, we become aware of what emotions are being triggered in us. After a lifetime of social conditioning, our minds excel at denying our emotions.
Fortunately, our bodies remain more reliable indicators of emotional reactivity. Heart racing can signal fear or excitement, jaw clenching can indicate anger or worry, and our smiles may appear before we even realize we are happy. After realizing we are feeling a particular emotion, we can ask ourselves what might be causing it.
Often, we don’t immediately recognize the principle being ignored or the worrisome possibility we’re anticipating, and it might require a few minutes of thought to understand our reaction. Those minutes of thought are well spent, as it’s more effective to calmly share our concern than it is to act out our raw emotion.
Lastly, healthy, efficient teams demand direct and respectful communication. Tolerating incompetence or disrespectful interactions undermines team morale and hijacks our time and attention. Describing the unacceptable behavior and sharing its impact is the best place to start the conversation. Asking the responsible individual for their thoughts about why this is happening and their ideas for how to correct it engages them in the conversation, rather than having them feel accused.
Defining specific behaviors or goals to achieve and how this will be assessed allows everyone to appreciate the importance of the situation and expectations for change.
Finally, following through is paramount. Gone are the days of the “lone wolf” physician. There is too much knowledge and expertise for any individual to keep up on. Fortunately, by refining our interpersonal skills, we can build teams that work well together. We and our patients will benefit.