In the course of every provider’s medical career, there is a certainty that we all have to face: the challenge of managing a relationship with a difficult consultant. This also begs a broader question: how do you forge a good working relationship with consultants in general? There are several proven methods to successfully accomplish this.
1. You need to better understand their world. Take every opportunity to learn and appreciate their workload, schedule, and career demands. The easiest way to do that is to simply round on them from time to time. Spending a few informal minutes “off the clock” talking with consultants about their lives, careers, or interests can facilitate the start of great professional relationships. Ask them how their day or week is going. Ask them what makes their work challenging or difficult, and apply their answers to internally asking yourself what you can do to minimize these stated challenges. Ideally, do this when you aren’t asking anything from them.
2. Once you have a better understanding of them, use this knowledge to ask what mutual expectations both of you may have that will result in a good working relationship. Inquire what you can do to optimize the collaboration, efficiency, and transfer of care to them. It is as simple as inquiring, “As I consult you from time to time, what can I do optimize our working relationship and to make it easier and more efficient for you to complete your consult? My goal is to always provide you with a high-quality handoff, and I would like to know, from your perspective, how I can consistently achieve that.” This type of conversation inevitably promotes great mutual respect.
3. Take the time to thank consultants on a regular basis. By making them feel appreciated for their time, efforts, and contributions, you openly acknowledge their value and expertise. An example might be, “I want to take a moment to thank you for being a valued resource and colleague to me. I appreciate your expertise, passion for great patient care, and commitment to quality. I acknowledge how stressful and difficult your day can be, and I want to express my appreciation for the support and expertise that you provide to me.” Even the most cantankerous consultants will warm their demeanor when faced with persistent praise and appreciation.
4. The medical environment can be demanding and stressful, which makes it all the harder to engage consultants in occasional casual and relaxed conversations in an attempt to earn their respect, trust, and even friendship. The best way to optimize relationships with consultants is to occasionally spend time with them at social functions or gatherings. There are usually plenty of opportunities throughout the year to attend a professional social function where you can engage your consultants in more casual and relaxed conversation. There is no better way to forge amicable relationships than sharing an occasional appetizer or glass of wine (perhaps two for the grumpier ones) with colleagues.
5. Despite your best efforts to accomplish the above, there are times when consultants’ behavior, demeanor, and actions cross the line of professionalism and common courtesy. Rather than endure this type of abuse, it is necessary to appropriately confront it. This is a crucial conversation that requires good preparation, timely execution, and, above all, tactful discipline. These types of conversations are most successful if you avoid accusatory statements and rather construct the conversation around how you can work better together. The key to these conversations is to ensure that you have developed and exercise good emotional intelligence. This involves being self-aware and accurately perceiving your emotions in the moment and predictable tendencies, managing those emotions and impulses using self-control to be flexible and stay positive, being socially aware by accurately reading the other person’s emotions, and combining all to effectively influence, manage conflict, collaborate, and lead change. Of all the skills needed to forge good working relationships with consultants and staff, having and exercising good emotional intelligence is the most important to your success. There are many excellent references on emotional intelligence. One easy and informational read is Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.
If you follow all of the above suggestions, there is a high probability that your medical career will be blessed with many solid and rewarding consultant relationships. We all know how satisfying that can be!
Dr. Schynoll is vice president for performance improvement at TeamHealth in Knoxville, Tennessee.