Having the ability to connect with others is just as important in professional private practice as it is in corporate environments. Those medical doctors who are aware of this ability have much better relationships with their patients. According to a study reported in a recent issue of Medical Education, nurse-rated measures of awareness skills of the doctors for whom they worked were positively associated with their patients’ trust of them. In other words, the higher the doctors’ awareness skills, the better the doctor-patient relationships.

Among medical specialists in the United States, being aware of the entire relationship with their patients benefits not only patients but doctors as well. According to one study, medical doctors who lack this quality are much more likely to get sued for malpractice. “What comes up again and again in malpractice suits,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Blink, “is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.”

To determine what the difference was between surgeons who were sued for malpractice at least twice and those who hadn’t been sued at all, Wendy Levinson and her colleagues recorded hundreds of conversations between surgeons and their patients. What they found was a small but remarkable difference. Those who weren’t sued, it turned out, spent somewhat more time with their patients and, even more important, were much more likely to share something humorous.

Both groups gave equal amounts of medical information, so the difference was the ability for them to connect in their communication – listening in the moment to really hear the experience of each patient.

Surely, the other surgeons were professional and gave good treatment. Hopefully, they liked their patients and cared about them as well. But the doctors that were focused on connecting with others cared more – enough to spend a bit of extra time and to come across as more concerned. There was no indication of any difference between the two groups in terms of experience or skill in surgical practice, merely the difference in the skills of awareness-based listening.

To learn more, read the revised and updated Relationship Economics paperback edition with 40 percent new content, including an all-new chapter 10 on social media and business relationships (Wiley, Feb. 2011).

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