Journal excerpt: Communication is the key

CDI Blog - Volume 15, Issue 1

The ability to communicate effectively with staff, the C-suite, providers, and other organizational entities is arguably the most important soft skill for a good leader.

“You can’t succeed as a manager if you can’t communicate your goals, your department’s mission, and your impact on the organization,” says Laurie Prescott, RN, MSN, CCDS, CCDS-O, CDIP, CRC, CDI education director at HCPro in Middleton, Massachusetts.

Communication skills come in two varieties: spoken (in-person conversations, phone calls) and unspoken (texts, emails, etc.). If managers can communicate clearly and effectively, it will help the team grow. If not, it could be the reason they sink.

Unspoken communication has grown over the past year and a half due to the pandemic-prompted rise in remote work. Many managers haven’t been able to communicate with their team in person and instead have had to rely on written communication over email and messaging systems.

As anyone who’s received a confusing text or email will tell you, tone and meaning can often be obscured in written communication. Depending on punctuation marks, word choice, and even capitalization, a written message can come across as harsher than intended because the recipient cannot hear the emotion in the sender’s voice. Leaders need to be able to both interpret emails from their staff exceptionally and craft emails to ensure their meaning comes across accurately.

In addition to written communication skills, leaders need to understand body language and make sure that during face-to-face conversations (whether in-person or virtual) their communication comes across through more than their words. For example, you may be speaking with a team member kindly, but if you’re neglecting to make eye contact, have your arms crossed, or seem disengaged or standoffish, that can affect your message.

“When you’re in person, or even behind a camera, you can sense when someone is rolling their eyes or disinterested. Your body language really communicates a lot,” says Chinedum Mogbo, MBBS, MBA, MSHIM, RHIA, CDIP, CCDS, CCS, CDI manager with Tenet Healthcare in Dallas, Texas.. “The way you hold yourself can change what you’re trying to get across.”

Prescott says that in addition to body language and kindness, assertiveness is a facet of communication that great managers should all possess, particularly when approaching organizational leadership.

“You have to be able to speak to your needs and what your department needs to succeed,” she says. “Often people will tell me, ‘If I had the support, we’d be so successful,’ and I ask them, ‘Have you communicated what you need to make this happen?’ Often, they just assume the C-suite knows what they need, but they really need to communicate that.”

In many cases, the C-suite sees the successful reports your department is creating, but they don’t see how the team is making it happen and the resources and education necessary to hit those metrics. If you want leadership’s support, you need to specify what that support looks like. For example, let them know if your budget needs to be increased because your team requires certain resources, or if you need to sit down with certain physicians and work on their engagement.

“If you need something from them, you need to tell them that,” says Prescott. “If you just ask for support [in general], they’ll say they support you, but you need to give the specifics.”

Assertiveness as a manager allows you to not only communicate needs for your team, but also protect your staff. For example, according to Prescott, being assertive can help you if physicians aren’t listening to your staff’s requests or you’re struggling to get requests fulfilled from the IT department.

“You need to be able to fight for your team,” she says. “It all falls under communication.”

Editor’s note: Read this full CDI Journal article here.

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