In April of this year, we will have been around for almost three years, and this anniversary date always makes me consider what have I learned since we started Thought Architects. The space I have occupied “along side” the health system as opposed to “in the health system” has offered me space for a reflective understanding of healthcare.
The other day I was talking with Karmen who is heading up our work in the legal sector. We have been comparing and contrasting key areas of professional practice in health care and law. This blog is our collective thinking...building on each other’s ideas (because that is what we do in Thought Architects!).
Margie’s Observation #1: If you don’t leave home, you don’t know what is weird.
If you are a health professional, you likely went to post-secondary education, made friends from your schooling, stayed friends with those classmates, went to work among others just like you, and just continued in the health system until you leave or retire.
In these cases, you literally cannot see any other way of being, behaving or interacting. Its like when you are a little kid. You really don’t know what is weird about your family. It just seems “normal.” Once you are out, you realize the ridiculousness of some ideas and ways of being. Some of things are charming. Some things are unhelpful.
Karmen’s Reflection: Although we are not born into a profession and there is no requirement to stay until we mature and become "adults" in our careers, I agree that within a profession it is easy to get caught up in what others would view as, like you say, “weird”.
For example, lawyers can sometimes convince themselves that being aggressive or highly competitive is showing strength. While stamina and determination can be assets in an adversarial system, advocating overzealously or acting like a hired gun can put one at risk of misalignment with one’s own values and may also be perceived as crossing the line towards disrespectful conduct.
Unfortunately, working in this type of environment can take a toll on people and show up as poor communication skills and strained relationships with clients, colleagues, and others.
Margie’s Observation #2: There is more than one way to “be”, even in your professional role.
Your training as a healthcare professional is all about what is your role and scope of practice - and what is your area of expertise and how do you use that expertise to care for patients. What is often lost in the course of training and the system orientation is the “versatility in stance.” The ability to shift from being an expert, to a teammate, to a guide. Each of these roles call for a slightly different way of “being” and corresponding skill base. This are nuanced distinctions, but important ones. They are distinctions that have a different set of skills, and not skills that come naturally to everyone – especially if you are trained to be “an expert,” and a hard role to let go of.
Karmen’s Reflection: I could not agree with you more on this point. I often hear from early career lawyers that their number one priority is to be competent. In their minds, holding knowledge will gain clients’ respect, provide value, and strengthen one’s reputation. Most lawyers work very hard to build and sustain their substantive knowledge. The flip side of this is that when you rely on being “all knowing”, it can be easy to slip into the habit of giving advice, even when it is not in the other person’s best interest to receive it in that moment. When this happens, one can come across as being inattentive, uncaring or egotistical.
Take for example, a friend of mine who recently saw a lawyer regarding an issue with their employer of over 30 years. The situation was tearing this person apart. Finding a lawyer who practices in this area of the law during the pandemic was a challenge, but they were able to book in at a firm known for their expertise. After their meeting, my friend was honest with me about how “cold” it felt. While the lawyer delivered a legally sound and likely to be successful ‘finish line’ solution, what they failed to see was that the client was still at the start line, and what she needed was to be heard and understood for her to move forward towards the proposed solution.
Margie’s Observation #3: People throw around terms like “collaborate” and “coach” and “teamwork” without really understanding what that means or how you do it.
“We should collaborate on that project”.
“Coach your students so they succeed.”
“If we all work as a team we will see better results.”
Great. But what does that really mean? How do you collaborate? How do you coach? How do you work as a team? You don’t just declare it and it becomes so. It is the result of purposeful ways of thinking, ways of being, skills and norms of interacting.
But few realize the importance of these skills. In professional services, the content, the expertise rules. It is what drives continuing education, development and growth opportunities.
As a pediatrician I admire put it: “great, as a surgeon you can operate beautifully. But tell me, just how successful do you think you will be if you can’t work well with others?” I would add, and “and how do you expect to just know how to do that?”
Karmen’s Reflection: Yes!
It is all too easy for professionals to become so caught up in the need “to do” and neglect the skills needed to make things successful! When we take a different approach in our interactions, invest in our skills that balance the need to provide competent advice with the need to build rapport and connect with those we are serving, we can feel better about our work and see a more positive impact to the bottom line.
Margie’s Observation #4: Simple things are really hard
In teaching coaching skills, we highlight how to listen to understand, how to respond to show you are listening, how to use silence as a productive part of a conversation and how to ask questions that invite thinking. These are all really simple ideas…but really hard to put into practice...and it is hard to offer yourself the grace to learn and struggle with something again.
Karmen’s Reflection: In my experience, our thoughts and emotions are what get in the way of being coach-like and exercising these key skills. It is difficult to dial-down our advising or problem-solving mode when we think that is what people respect and value us for.
I believe that one of the greatest gifts a professional, or any human being, can give is to see, hear, and understand another person. How can we accomplish this when we are doing most of the talking? How can we learn if we don't offer ourselves the permission to do so?
Margie’s Observation #5: You won’t get anywhere without self-reflection
It all starts with you. Recognize your assumptions. Challenge the ways of being that are unproductive. Consider how to be adaptive in how you approach situations. Work at the seemingly simple ideas of how to work with others. When these things come together, work gets “easy” – AND it is more fulfilling, engaging and impactful.
Karmen’s Reflection: I will add that we do not want you to change who you are or re-learn how to communicate. We simply want you to be your best so that you can best serve others. Remember that gift of being seen, heard, and understood, that I talked about earlier? What could be the impact of giving yourself that gift? How might that help you to lift yourself up, and others?
One thing that is becoming evident - we are more alike than we are different. Which of these observations ring true for your profession?