Effective Communication for
A Two-Way Street
By: Ward Keever, CTG HealthCare Solutions Executive Director of Executive Services
We have the
Before I begin with this month’s comments, I would like to take a moment to thank
attitude that if we my colleagues at CTGHS for the opportunity to provide you with these periodic
work tirelessly to ramblings of an ex-CIO. Tom Niehaus, Clair Detraz, and the CTGHS clan have
given me a very long leash and allow me to ramble on about most anything I
deliver the right choose.
technology, our I would also like to thank each of the Insights readers (especially those who
constituents will occasionally respond with a “well done!” when I hit on a topic of value to you). In
the recent past, the Insights titled “The Five Best Decisions the Beatles Made” and
see our value, “Healthcare Reform: It’s Not Who Pays” received the most comments. They
and senior probably also demonstrate the length of my leash.
management will At your leisure, you may want to go to CTGHS.com and peruse back issues for
appreciate our something that may not have had value to you at the time but is relevant and worth
reading today. There are Insights addressing IT governance, customer service,
efforts and the negotiating principals, managing change, and many other topics.
applications This month, I want to address the value of good communication. Many of us came
we’ve delivered to out of technical environments and are not great salespersons or communicators.
We have the attitude that if we work tirelessly to deliver the right technology, our
make their work constituents will see our value, and senior management will appreciate our efforts
more effective. In and the applications we’ve delivered to make their work more effective. In many
cases, however, that’s not enough.
however, that’s And since IT is frequently viewed as a cost center and commodity, you must
differentiate yourself and your department beyond the technology and applications.
not enough. The primary means of doing this is through excellent communications—a skill that
may not come naturally for those with roots in technology.
CIOs must learn what their constituents want and appreciate, beyond IT support.
This can only be achieved by listening carefully, processing information effectively,
and acting appropriately. Without good communications, constituents feel that
they’re being served not as individuals, but as a faceless group of ‘users.’ This
ultimately leads to an unsatisfactory relationship. Poor communications is the
biggest obstacle you can face in effectively leading your team and forming lasting
relationships with your constituents.
Good communication is complex and can involve word choice, ideas, vocal
inflection, facial expression, body language, appearance, and a host of other
factors. Good communication involves both listening and speaking. A good
communicator takes responsibility for both sides of the conversation.
The first conversation that you, as a CIO, have with a constituent or staff person is
extremely important. It sets the tone for the relationship, and can a have a big
impact on their comfort and their perception of your interest in them as a person,
rather than just another user or staff member.
Understand your audience
you, as a CIO,
When speaking or writing, take the time to understand your audience and their
have with a perspective. What is their normal frame of reference? How familiar are they with
constituent or the world of IT? For instance, jargon and technology abbreviations can be a
communication stumbling block, particularly when communicating with members of
staff person is
a Board of Directors as a group or individually.
I experienced this very situation even though I tried very hard to avoid it. I was
important. It sets preparing to make a board presentation asking for funding of a major project. I
the tone for the went through the presentation and Power Point slides several times to ensure all
the abbreviations and technical jargon had been eliminated. Following the
relationship, and presentation, the Chairman complimented me and said he only had one question:
can a have a big “What is an HIS?” Wow! I had totally missed this very obvious abbreviation
because it had become part of our daily lexicon. But for board members, it was still
impact on their an undefined abbreviation. And I was asking them to fund it.
comfort and their
The use of analogies and examples can have a very meaningful place in your
perception of communication, especially when the topic is a new idea or concept for the listener.
your interest in In one instance, I was talking with a leading physician in the community and trying
to explain the telecommunications network we wanted to create. This network
them as a person, would provide access to clinical information across the organization and our
rather than just community-based physicians. I was at it for a few minutes when I realized I had
gone too deep ‘into the weeds’ and had probably lost his interest.
another user or
I stopped for confirmation, offering that he was probably having trouble grasping
staff member. what I was trying to say. To his credit he responded, “Not at all. You want to create
an electronic central nervous system, so the rest of the body can behave in a
coordinated fashion.” That was such a great analogy, we called the new network
the ‘CNS’ and I gave credit every opportunity I had to the physician thought leader
who came up with it.
Putting descriptions and ideas into your listener’s or reader’s normal frame of
reference goes a long way to bridging understanding.
Be an active listener
Listening is the other half of effective communications. It is an acquired skill that
takes effort. Listening includes absorbing, processing, and sifting to get the exact
meaning intended. The ability to take mental notes that you can recall later takes
practice. Salesmen record these conversations in a CRM system (Oops—I meant
to say “customer relationship management system”) so they can easily recall past
conversations prior to the next sales call.
Some CIOs I know use a very simple CRM system: following each meaningful
Ward Keever conversation, they simply add a comment to a Word document that they have
created for each constituent. Having this information available for recall and
including it in the next conversation is an indication of truly caring about the
Executive Director relationship and it demonstrates that you did, in fact, listen to previous
for CTG HealthCare conversations. It’s simple and effective.
Solutions’ For me, with my type A personality, I have a tendency to interrupt people when
Executive Services. they’re talking with me. This is especially true when I think I understand what the
As a former CIO, person is about to say. This is rude, and my impatience is not a valid excuse. Lots
of us do this and we’re not even aware of it until someone calls our attention to it.
he has over 35 Allowing people to express their ideas, frustration, or misunderstandings is
years of experience important—even if you feel you already know the answer. Too often the conclusion
in the healthcare you jump to is incorrect. Good listening also creates a bond that says their input is
valuable to you.
IT industry, with a
strong background Don’t forget style
in strategy And finally, the unintended content and style of our conversation can be very
development and distracting. Years ago, I had several colleagues who would include the phrase “you
know” in their speech without even knowing they did it. I would begin counting the
number of times they said “you know,” and listening to the conversation became
strategic and secondary.
tactical IT systems
Today, it seems as if colleges and high schools have a required course on how to
in large health use the word “like” in every sentence. This is, like, very distracting, and, like, hardly
system settings of any value. But many of us, like, seem to use this word throughout our
conversations. And it has become, like, totally acceptable for, like, our kids and
grandkids, no matter how smart they are, to incorporate this word into, like, every
solutions for conversation. It’ll be, like, interesting to see if Webster’s dictionary, like, someday
applications within expands the definition of the word “like.” You know, like, totally dude . . .
the healthcare It’s not just about substance, it’s also about style. The best leaders are good two-
industry. way communicators: Thoughtful. Factual. Relevant. Frequent. Inspiring.
So how did I do? Is anyone there . . .
For more Tally Ho!