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Top ten tips to communicate effectively with colleagues

Post date: 05/11/2015 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 18/05/2020

Good doctors are good communicators. Professor Allan Gaw, from the National Institute of Health Research, shares his top tips to help you improve your communication skills

Problems more often than not become bigger problems as a result of poor communication. When the lines of communication get muddled, or on occasion severed, we have a recipe for disquiet and sometimes disaster. Avoid these problems by following these top tips

When the dust has settled on a problem and we have a chance to reflect on its cause, it’s more often than not a case of poor communication. How can we avoid these problems; how can we ensure our communication with our colleagues is optimal? Here are ten tips to help you.

  1. Keep it simple

    Some hospitals or practices have so many different channels of communication and forums for discussion that, rather than helping, these complex, multi-layered and overlapping systems actually hinder the process because they are not used. Clear, simple lines of communication within a team and between teams are essential, and the simpler the better.

  2. Listen, don’t just talk

    Good communication is always as much about listening as it is about speaking. Hear what others are saying and remember the input of junior and non-clinical staff may be crucial and should never be dismissed.

  3. Formalise team meetings

    In a clinical setting, we work in multi-disciplinary teams and the cohesion and efficiency of those teams will often dictate the quality of care we can provide. The glue that holds a clinical team together and which allow it to function is communication. We need regular and formal team meetings to share important clinical information.

  4. Delegate, don’t dump

    When asking someone to carry out a task on your behalf, take care to explain what you want done and document the discussion to ensure there is no dubiety. Remember, however, that if you delegate a task you may still retain the responsibility for its completion and for the quality of the output.

  5. Be specific

    A lot of miscommunication is due to imprecision. Don’t ask for ‘somebody’ to do this because everyone will assume that ‘somebody’ means someone else. Ask specific people to carry out tasks and be equally specific in explaining what you want done.

  6. Keep good notes

    With shift working and cross-cover several doctors may be involved in the clinical care of a patient. Good communication between these doctors in essential to ensure that patient safety and clinical outcomes are not jeopardised. The key to this is to keep clear, complete and comprehensive clinical notes.

    "Know whose responsibility it is in your team to communicate clinical information and don’t assume that someone else is doing it"

  7. Handover with care

    If you are handing over the care of a patient to another doctor or team ensure you provide as complete information as possible, perhaps using a checklist or other simple management tool, as well as checking that the information has been received and understood.

  8. Don’t make assumptions

    Know whose responsibility it is in your team to communicate clinical information and don’t assume that someone else is doing it.

  9. Take action if communication is poor or absent

    Poor communication can harm patients and it is unacceptable to shrug off such problems if you are experiencing them. Whatever the root cause of the poor communication, take appropriate steps to address it.

  10. Think of the patient first

    If communication breaks down with a professional colleague because of personal problems remember you have a duty to act in your patient’s best interest, but you also have a duty to treat your colleague with respect. You must act to fix the problem, but always bear in mind the GMC guidance on this.

Professor Allan Gaw works for the University of Leeds and the National Institute of Health Research. Previously he was a full-time academic working as Professor of Clinical Research at Queen's University Belfast.

Access his work here and www.researchet.wordpress; follow him on Twitter @ResearchET.


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