7 Tips for Productive Working Relationships in Healthcare

I am fortunate to have mostly very positive relationships at work.  As I reflect on what some of the most successful tactics I have used to cultivate positive productive relationships in the workplace, I recognize some things that I typically do that may account for this positivity.

I don't know that I would consider these tactics per se, but probably more reflective of my personality make up.

Here are 7 tips for building positive relationships in healthcare workplaces:

1. Be friendly

Show interest in people for who they are, and in what things make them tick outside of work.

2. Practice humility

Recognize the value and worth of all who we come in contact with. Be willing to do whatever it is you might ask of a colleague or subordinate.

3. Be kind

As a surgeon, the operating room is my domain.  The stereotype of a surgeon is one of a demanding, unbending tyrant.  And this caricature is historically well earned. But it is said that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, and I find this to be a valid maxim.  So like the Tim McGraw song, always be humble and kind.

4. Enjoy humor

People like to laugh. I know I do. It just makes things easier, even difficult things.

5. Be an active listener

Something that helps me be an active listener is mirroring or reflective listening. This is repeating the last few key words that someone has just said to you in your conversation.

Reflective listening allows me to concentrate on what colleagues and patients are saying and not formulating responses while they are talking.

Mirroring buys me time to think. It lets the speaker know that I am indeed listening to them. And it probably increases the receptivity of what responses I might have for them.

6. Keep calm

During interactions that can be heated or in times of conflict, I need to be aware of my own emotions or anger rising. I need to lower my voice, reduce the cadence of my speaking, and be aware of my own defensiveness as it begins to surface.

7. Be empathetic

Placing myself in another's situation or point of view allows me to appreciate a different perspective, and it gives me an opportunity for learning and growth.

I am far from perfect and have much room for improvement.  As I reflect and write these ideas, I am exhorting myself more than anyone to make gains in each of these areas.

Building Positive Relationships in Healthcare

One specific example I can recall where these 7 tactics supported positive relationships in the workplace occurred recently.

The ambulatory surgical center that I am the medical director and executive director of is brand new. We received our AAHC accreditation and subsequent Medicare billing number (PTAN) just a few months ago. Our first billable cases were done March 7. So we really are brand new.

We've assembled an excellent clinical and clerical staff, yet we are still finding our rhythm and roles as we get our sea legs under us.

At the end of a busy surgical day, probably the biggest day we have had to date (that is a good thing!), I unknowingly walked into a hornet's nest.

Most of the staff was gathered in an impromptu debriefing and venting session. I found myself at the center of attack, and I started to feel my temperature rising.

I was preparing to glance incoming arrows off of my shield and mount a counter attack, when I remembered to step back, actively listen and not respond.

The clinical and clerical staff just needed me to listen and empathize. In that moment, listening and empathy was all they needed.

The counter attacks, or points to be made in response to their concerns were addressed and taken care of by another staff member after the venting was done, people had cooled off, and were ready to receive them.

So in the end, in this instance, active listening and empathy were the right tools.

About the Author

Dr. David Brown is the Medical Director and Executive Director of the Great Lakes Surgery Center, an Ambulatory Surgical Center, in Michigan. Dr. Brown is an Executive MHA student at USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Written by David Brown