The Quickest Way From Point A to Point B is a Straight Line

I JUST got these phone calls in our office.

Patient’s mother: “My daughter was seen yesterday. She is having an issue after her filling.”

Front Desk: “Ok. We should take a look at that. Can you tell me more about her issue?”

PM: “I don’t know. She just asked me to call you.”

FD: “Ok. Can she come in right now?”

PM: “I don’t know. Let me have her call you.”

FD: “Sounds good.”

Everybody hangs up. I sigh.

One minute later, the phone rings. It’s the patient.

Patient: “My mom just called for me. I’m having an issue.”

Front Desk: “Ok. We should take a look at that. Can you tell me more about her issue?”

P: “My cheek is really sore. I might have bitten it when it was numb.”

FD: Ok. Can you come in right now?

P: “Sure thing.”

It seems to me that clear communication, the question source going DIRECTLY to the answer source, does not happen as often as it should. If that patient would have called us directly herself, it would have saved her mother a phone call and it would have not wasted our front desk’s time. (Side note: For those of you who do not answer the dental office phone, you have no idea the type of wacky communication we have to muddle through on a daily basis. On the phone, people are all over the place. I spend a lot of  the day reeling people back in.)

When you start to pay attention to communication, you will find that this happens a lot.

Doctor to patient in the chair: “Which tooth is bothering you?”

Patient: “It started 2 weeks ago.”

D: “Ok. Which one is it?”

P: “I was eating salad. I don’t drink soda or tea.”

D: “Can you point it out with your finger?”

P: Using tongue and it’s covering 3 teeth.): “I think it’s this one.”

Effective and efficient communication can be challenging for some people. I don’t think they are trying to be difficult. In fact, I think they are trying to be helpful. But I think it’s more important to ANSWER THE QUESTION being asked.

Me: “Did your mom go to your house on Saturday?”

Friend: “Well, she went to her friend’s house on Friday. They went out to dinner at this great new place downtown. She tried to take a picture of her food, but it was on selfie mode and she ended up with a bunch of pictures of her nose. It was really funny. Then on Saturday, they went to see that new movie about the bank heist. She told me all about it. Who knew the victim was actually in on it? Sounded really good.”

M: (mentally crosses off ‘go see that new bank heist movie off the list’) : “So, did she go to your house on Saturday?”

F: “Oh no. She was really tired after her busy Friday and Saturday morning.”

Circular communication / verb: When someone goes in a gigantic, twisted circle to give an answer. Ok. I made that part up.

I really like that friend, but sometimes I avoid her because she cannot give a succinct answer and ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’m 100% guilty of communicating this way to my team. I was not always clear in my expectations or instructions. When tasks weren’t getting completed the way I wanted, I would be upset. Back then, none of it was my fault, of course. I would just blame everyone else for not listening to me.

Then one day, I put my ego down and decided to change how I was communicating. I adopted the old, “Less is More” philosophy. I started going to the source, being very clear, and cutting right to the chase. I made it a point to use less words and to answer the question being asked. When you cut out all the noise, things become quieter, clearer, and easier.

Here are some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped. Learn from me. Don’t make the same mistakes.

  1. When someone is speaking to you, do NOT use that time to think about other things. When someone is speaking, focus on THAT PERSON’S words. Do NOT think about what you have to do later on that day, or anything else that will distract you. Don’t look at your phone or open your mail. It’s rude AND you cannot multitask as well as you think you can. You are not communicating properly if you are thinking about anything else whilst someone else is talking. You greatly lower your ability to remember what that person is saying when you are thinking about something else, so QUIT doing that! Listening is an ACTIVE activity. It requires effort and concentration.
  2. Don’t put your own spin on things and PLEASE don’t assume. If I say something is ok, then please don’t keep asking me if it’s ok.
  3. Pause and breathe. When someone asks you a question, it’s ok to pause for a few seconds and breathe. Those few seconds give you the time to gather an answer. You don’t HAVE to respond the second someone finishes talking. Give yourself a chance to offer an exact and clear answer.
  4. Answer the question being asked.

On that note, I have to take a phone call. Wish me luck.