They’re Not Listening to You: 5 Steps to Motivating Physicians

Physicians are an avoidant bunch.
They’re Not Listening to You: 5 Steps to Motivating Physicians
We tend to focus on what’s wrong with the patient. We move away from things: We avoid disease, we decrease complications, we reduce morbidity and mortality. Even as we talk of moving our patients toward health, we talk of preventative medicine. Many of us carry this “away from” motivation to other parts of our lives. We aim to decrease our risk and minimize potential loss. We ensure that we are insured against anything that might go wrong, from a patient, our house, our car, our health, our ability.

On the other hand, as physician leaders we often move toward something: We move toward efficient processes, we move toward profit, we move toward better opportunities for our organization. This creates a conundrum. As physician leaders who are moving toward positive results, we attempt to communicate with physicians who are motivated away from negative results. The resulting communication gap doesn’t have to be a problem. Instead, it can be exploited to increase your ability to motivate others.

Here are five steps you can use to better motivate colleagues:

1. Different strokes for different folks.
Acknowledge that some people are motivated to be “away from” while others prefer to “move toward.” While medicine is heavily weighted with a motivation to avoid the untoward, there are those within our ranks who are motivated toward achievement.

2. It’s all good.
Understand that it is perfectly fine to have either an “away from” or a “toward” motivation. One is not right; the other is not wrong. In fact, having a balance of motivational direction in an organization is quite healthy. Additionally, the motivational direction may depend on the specific situation. Someone might be motivated “away from” in the office and “toward” at home.

3. Are they away from or toward?
Figure out the direction of motivation of the individuals whose minds you are trying to change. You can do this by asking yourself: “What is it about [x] that is important?”

For example, “What is it about [partnering with them] that is important?” or “What is it about [purchasing that device] that is important?”

If your colleagues talk of all the problems they will avoid, they are motivated “away from.” If, on the other hand, they talk mostly of opportunities and achievements, then they are motivated “toward.”

4. Speak their language.
Talk to the individual whose mind you are trying to change in the direction of his or her motivation. If you know that the CEO is generally an “away from” personality, you will be most effective if you can point out the problems that will be solved and the outcomes that can be avoided by choosing your approach. If you focus more heavily on all the achievements of your “toward” approach, you are less likely to connect with the CEO’s motivation.

5. Speak out of both sides of your mouth.
When you are trying to motivate a room full of people, there will inevitably be opposing motivations in the group. You need to speak out of both sides of your mouth. You need to say the same thing with both an “away from” and a “toward” approach.

For example, “This partnership will decrease our losses by providing better leverage when negotiating with the vendor, and it will increase our profit per unit.” Or, “This device will avoid the set-up time, and it will increase the number of procedures that we can perform each day.”

Use these five steps to understand and speak to the motivations of others and you can avoid miscommunication and be a more effective leader. You can talk all you want, but if you’re not speaking their language, they’re not listening.