• Stephen Harden

Make Sounds Come Out of Their Mouths

Improve your skills to get people to do what you need them to do.


I meet with leaders from more than 30 health care organizations a year. Everywhere I go, they tell me that communication issues present the biggest frustrations when trying to get their staffs to improve patient safety.


These health care leaders tell me:

• “They don’t listen.”

• “There’s no mindfulness.”

• “They don’t understand the importance of what we want them to do.”


These leaders are right. If you can’t communicate your vision of what must be done, how to do it, and why it must be done that way, there’s little hope of getting people to do what you want them to do. But, the communication problem is often not with the listener, it’s with the speaker.


Many managers have a fundamental misunderstanding of communication. If asked, they will say, “Communication is the transmission of information between people so that it is understood.” This view is wrong and prevents people from understanding and doing what you really want them to do.


Do you think you know what effective communication is?


BrainEffective communication is thought transmission: getting the thought that is in your head into another person’s head. Why? The brain thinks six times faster than the mouth can speak. Therefore, it is primarily a reactive instrument. The ear hears and the mind reacts.


Want proof? Go to your colleague and ask them to say the first thing that pops into their mind when you say a word. If you say “black” they will say “white.” If you say “soft,” they will say “hard.” If you say “tall,” they will say “short.” In fact, no matter what word you say, they will associate that word with something else and will almost never repeat the word you said.


If communication really was information transmission, when you said “black,” the other person would say “black.” But the mind is reactive, and it thinks of something else because of what you said. The things you say act as triggers to create other thoughts in the other person’s mind.


If you have an idea about compliance with a safety protocol that you want to appear in someone’s head, you must say something that will cause that specific idea to appear in their mind. When you speak to staff members and incessantly try to fix the problem you are experiencing by doing all the talking, you have no idea what thoughts have been transmitted into their heads.



How to know when they get it.


You can talk faster, slower, louder, longer, with more passion, or with more detail, but in reality YOU DON’T KNOW FOR SURE WHAT THOUGHTS HAVE BEEN TRANSMITTED TO THEIR HEADS. If you want to know what their brains are working on, YOU HAVE TO MAKE SOUNDS COME OUT OF THEIR MOUTHS. You have to think of ways to say what you want to say so that the other person will speak the thoughts you wanted to transmit to their brain.


This completely changes the emphasis of how you communicate. You will be talking less, and asking more questions - to make sounds come out of their mouths.


Here are some examples:

• “Can you tell me what is supposed to happen in this situation?”

• “Can you describe how, in detail, this procedure should be done?”

• “Why is it important that this method be followed?”

• “What are some of the potential consequences when a workaround is used here?”


By communicating this way, you will know if staff members have the thoughts in their heads that they must have to be able to do what you want them to do. Try it and see if it doesn’t make a difference.




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