Communication is a concept that makes sense to all of us. It’s being able to talk to people, right?
Well, it’s actually more than that.
Being an excellent communicator is a multi-faceted skill. It means that you are able to converse with people in a compassionate, respectful and culturally safe manner. It means that you are an active listener, responding not only to what the other person is saying, but also noticing and responding to their body language.
Communication as a Skill: What Does That Really Mean?
An excellent communicator will pay careful attention to the perspective of the other person, and nonjudgmentally seek to understand their values and biases. You have to be able to manage disagreements and emotionally charged conversations; keeping calm even when others don’t.
You need to be able to simplify complex concepts and remember to check for understanding during your explanation. You must use language that is appropriate for your audience, and learn to flexibly rephrase when your audience doesn’t understand. Even choosing the right environment for a conversation is part of communicating well—you have to be aware of your surroundings and how they might affect the other person.
Communication isn’t just about talking; particularly in today’s digitally networked world, you need to be able to share written information concisely and accurately in an electronic form. You should be familiar with how people communicate across distances through different platforms; especially understanding how to protect privacy when using these platforms.
Next, we’ll share a story of an expert (and a not-so-expert) communicator in the emergency department.
Communication in a Professional Setting
Don didn’t have a regular family doctor, so when he had a cough that he couldn’t shake, he decided to visit the local emergency department. His doctor asked him a few questions, listened to his chest, and then gave Don a prescription for antibiotics. A few weeks passed and the antibiotics didn’t seem to help, so Don made another trip to the emergency department.
He saw a different doctor this time, one who looked barely old enough to be out of medical school. This doctor first asked the same questions the previous doctor had, but then had more. “Have you noticed any blood when you cough?” “Do you think you have lost any weight lately? Maybe you’ve had to take your belt in a notch?” “Do you smoke—if so, how many packs per day?”
Don admitted he’d occasionally noticed a few flecks of blood on his hand, after he covered his mouth to cough. He might have taken in his belt one notch, but then again, his appetite hadn’t been so great lately. Don usually didn’t mention his smoking to doctors, but the matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental way he’d been asked made him comfortable enough to admit that he’d smoked half a pack per day for the last 25 years.
“I’m going to send you for a chest x-ray, Don. I’ll talk to you again once we have the results.”
An hour later, they were seated in a private room. “Don, I have some news to share with you about the x-ray results. Would you like to wait for your wife so we can discuss this together?” Don shook his head. The doctor continued, “Your understanding of this cough is that it’s from a chest infection?” This time, the patient nodded. “Don, the scan showed a large nodule in your right lung. Given its size and the medical history you’ve shared with me, we’re going to assume this is lung cancer until we can prove otherwise.”
Don looked stunned. “How did the other doctor miss this?”
The difference between average communication and excellent communication can—and often is—the difference between life and death for a patient. In the previous example, a potential lung cancer was missed by the first doctor but caught by the second because of the second doctor’s expert communication.
They took the time to ask questions that the first doctor didn’t, and they were nonjudgmental, so Don felt safe disclosing his smoking history. Finally, the young doctor shared the bad news with the patient in a quiet, private environment with respect and compassion, and using terms that Don could easily understand.
Given this example, you can understand why medical schools and other health professions program are so interested in choosing applicants with excellent communication skills.
So How Does CASPer Evaluate You on this Skill?
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