February 2004 Bulletin

Effectively manage your communication style

Tips to deal with workplace stress

By Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, and Mary O. Sotile, MA

Have you ever noticed that a thriving medical organization is filled with smiling faces? Research has shown that level of happiness predicts both productivity and health. In prior work, we found that physician happiness cross-correlates with a combination of important organizational and personal factors: health, job satisfaction, work-team cohesion, retention of key employees, quality of marriage and family life, patient satisfaction, patient adherence and malpractice claims.(1)

Protecting physician satisfaction
In today’s changing medical environment, protecting physician satisfaction is a formidable task. More than ever, physicians need to be good corporate citizens—ambassadors of collaboration and collegiality. But between 23 percent and 60 percent of physicians show marked signs of burnout.(2) Also, from training through retirement, physicians report that conflict with peers, patients and the people they supervise is the most significant stressor affecting their personal and professional well being. In fact, only 22 percent of physicians say they received enough training in communication and 40 percent say they received enough training in management skills.(3)

Our work with physicians and medical organizations indicates that the tone of any group hinges on the practice of effective emotional management—the process of managing your own emotions, while also attending to the emotional impact your behavior has on others.

There are six aspects of effective emotional management that can foster individual resilience, collaboration and collegiality.

1. Manage yourself
Your relationships won’t feel any better than you do. The starting point for dealing with workplace stress is to bolster your coping reserves with adequate self-care. It is important that you respect your own mind, body, spirit and personal relationships.

2. Act like a leader
Take the lead in your practice for fostering effective medical leadership behaviors:

Accept the fact that leadership styles must match current organizational needs. Yesterday’s leadership style might need to be replaced by new attitudes and skills.

3. Create team-building contexts Create contexts that give trust, collegiality, mutual respect and teamwork a chance to grow. Meet regularly to discuss organizational issues. Have practice retreats. Set long- and short-term organizational goals, and regularly solicit and give each other feedback relative to these goals. Accept the fact that disagreement between colleagues is inevitable; conflict is optional. How you manage your differences will determine the health or pathology of your organization.

4. Take responsibility for your communication style
Stress tends to make narcissists of us all. Evaluate your communication by the response you are getting. When others’ responses displease you, consider changing your style— rather than blaming them and waiting for them to accommodate you. Avoid using any of the following collegiality-killers:
Silence, bullying, manipulation, ignoring, blaming, mixed messages, snubbing, insults, outbursts, cool/aloof behavior, abruptness, discrediting, secretiveness, passive/aggression, aggression and/or lack of response to input.

Remember: Effective leaders lead with gratitude and make a point to thank others when they are doing things right.

5. Deal with colleagues who demonstrate disruptive behavior
Develop policies and procedures for dealing with inappropriate workplace behavior, including inappropriate displays of anger and any behavior that sabotages collaboration and collegiality.(4)

These guidelines can help when dealing with a colleague who behaves in ways that erode teamwork:

6. Try to understand “the other” generation
Today’s medical workplace is diverse in many ways. Managing inter-generational issues is one of the most daunting and important tasks we face in healthcare. Start by understanding the “other” generations.

Older physicians can foster collaboration with younger colleagues by:

Younger physicians can foster collaboration with older colleagues by:

1. Sotile WM, Sotile MO: The Resilient Physician: Effective Emotional Management for Doctors and Their Organization. Chicago, IL, AMA Press, 2002.

2. Campbell DA Jr, Sonnad SS, Eckhauser FE, Campbell KK, Greenfield LJ: Burnout Among American Surgeons, Surgery, 2001, 130(4): 696-705.

3. Ramirez AJ, Graham J, Richards MA, Cull A, Gregory WM: Mental health of hospital consultants: the effects of stress and satisfaction at work. Lancet 1996;347:724-728.

4. Sotile WM, Sotile MO: Effective emotional management: Managing an inappropriately angry colleague. The Resilient Physician Newsletter, March, 2003;2(2):1,8.

Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, and Mary O. Sotile, MA, are health care consultants who frequently write and speak about physician well being. They have published nine books and are editors-in-chief for The Resilient Physician newsletter. They can be reached at (336) 765-3032 or wsotile@attglobal.net. See http://www.theresilientphysician.com.
com for more information.

Across the Generations
In any given practice, there may be as many as four different “generations” represented. Here’s a short description of the most common categories.
Traditionalist physicians

Traditionalists were born before the end of World War II, when cultural heroes like Patton and Eisenhower modeled devotion to work, delay of gratification and commitment to a larger cause.

Traditionalists relate best to colleagues who show them respect. Increasingly, senior physicians are seeking career flexibility that allows them to gradually reduce their work hours while preserving the respect and esteem of their peers.

Baby boomer physicians

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Boomers learned to value working hard, gaining material wealth and achieving. They talk openly about feelings, want their opinions to be valued and want acknowledgement for their hard work. Because they were idealists, they can be the most “disillusioned” group in medicine.

Generation X physicians
Generation X physicians were born between 1965 and 1980. They came of age watching workaholic Baby Boomers get downsized and divorced. Thanks to constant news coverage, they learned about the personal flaws and foibles of cultural heroes. As a result, these physicians tend to be more skeptical of authority and tradition. They also tend to have a more determined commitment to fighting for work/life balance.

But beware of the myth that this is a generation of “slackers.” In fact, modern technology so readily blurs any boundary separating work from home life that these computer-literate young physicians spend increasing hours working in medicine while at home. And residents and medical students today are pressured to learn more material than any prior generation.

Research shows that this generation values affiliation with an organization that offers them a lifetime career path. Even if they prefer casual dress, independence and innovation, they also want security.

Generation Y physicians
Generation Y physicians were born in 1981 or later and have a renewed idealism and commitment to humanitarian causes. They show a penchant for fairness and doing the “right” things. These are the folks who want to work in teams where they can have a bit of fun. But they also have a serious interest in developing career paths with a future. They don’t want to be coddled, but they do want to be listened to and understood.

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