Editor’s note: “Power Skills” is a 12-part series with one article posted monthly exploring the nontechnical tools today’s health care facilities professionals need to succeed and excel in their career goals. See more articles from the series here

A gauge is easy to read. There are numbers. There are hash marks. If the needle is in the red, or the light is blinking or the alarm is sounding, you know something is wrong and you need to respond.    

People — they’re a little harder to read. You know their mouth just said, “It’s fine,” but their body language makes you think maybe it’s not. Whether you’re trying to interact with your family, friends or coworkers, communication is an essential “power skill” to work to improve.   

In the health care setting, poor communication can have disastrous impacts on both patients and the purse. A 2015 study found that 30% of the malpractice cases examined had communication failures at their core, costing 1,744 individuals their lives as well as $1.7 billion in costs for the hospitals and medical offices the study examined. For those in facilities management and construction, the monetary costs are even higher.  

In 2018 alone, $31.3 billion worth of construction rework in the U.S. was caused by poor data and miscommunication, with construction workers losing almost two full working days each week solving avoidable issues and searching for project information, according to a survey of 600 construction leaders done that year by PlanGrid and FMI Corp.  

Diversity of perspectives and experiences brings incredible value to teams, but it is important to remember that with that diversity comes a wide range of preferred (and nonpreferred) communication strategies. It is necessary that leaders and colleagues work to improve their communication skills in order to achieve those gains. 

A quick search of the web will find many in-depth articles on how to effectively communicate across diverse teams. I found that most of these articles expand on five key areas: Empathy, patience, observation, introspection and openness. The nuances of each of these communications techniques provide incredible value in building the skills that will enable us to ­­— as our future leaders Bill and Ted say — “Be excellent to one another.”

  • Be empathetic. Try to understand the perspective of the person with whom you are communicating. What life experiences provide context for how they will perceive the message you are sending them?
  • Be patient. Take time for clarity or clarification when speaking with and actively listening to someone else.   
  • Be observant. So much of communication is nonverbal. Pay attention to your physicality when communicating with your team. Understand the role setting plays in how your message will be received. Pay attention to the nonverbal responses of the people receiving the message you have just communicated.  
  • Be introspective. Take time to consider the impact of what and how you communicate to your team. Acknowledge your own assumptions, attitudes and biases.
  • Be open. Effective communication is a two-way street. Encourage questions and feedback. Actively integrate that feedback into your communication strategies.  

Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” provides us with a quote that should act as a foundation for any effort to improve your communication skills: “Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” 

So, the next time you are trying to improve the way you communicate with your family, friends or coworkers, gauge the actions you have taken to establish trust with them, and whether the actions they have taken have returned that trust to you. That’s a gauge that is easy to read.  

Adam Bazer, MPD, is director of education at the American Society for Health Care Engineering.