How a hospital stay inspired 3 simple but powerful lessons for internal communicators

I recently spent a couple of nights in the hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics for an infected dog bite. The cause? A 13-pound, adorable Yorkshire Terrier my husband and I had adopted a few weeks before. Unfortunately, the little guy turned out to be dangerously aggressive. (That’s a topic for another blog.)

Propped up in bed, my injured hand elevated on a pillow, I realized there’s inspiration in even the most unlikely places for internal communication professionals. My healthcare providers demonstrated the following three principles of effective change communication:

1. Ask questions and—listen carefully to the answers
When my colleagues saw my red, swollen hand they insisted I go straight to urgent care. The physician’s assistant who treated me also works in the Emergency Department of a local hospital. He examined my hand gently and shook his head.

“If you were in my hospital, I’d admit you for IV antibiotics,” he said. “I can send you home now with orals, but you’ll need to follow up with a hand surgeon tomorrow. And if it gets worse later today, you’ll have to go to the ER.”

As the nurse prepared a tetanus booster shot, I could see the PA was concerned. So I posed a key question: “If I were your sister, what would you do?”

He answered by pulling out his smart phone. “I’ll call ahead. The folks on call in the ER will know you’re on the way.” It’s a good thing he did, because the infection worsened during the short drive to the hospital. I’m glad I pushed him by asking the right question.

When starting an internal communication project, ask probing questions. The next time someone asks you to create a video, don’t just dive right into tactical execution. Ask penetrating questions like:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What do you need employees to know or do as a result of your communication?

Listen carefully to the answers and you may find that a video isn’t the right vehicle after all.

2. Nothing beats face to face, especially during a change

At shift change, the nurses conducted patient handoffs in my room. According to Lorenzo Ortega, BSN, and Bridget Parsh, EdD, RN, CNS: “One of the best ways to prevent confusion and misinformation is to conduct the shift handoff report at the patient’s bedside… . Not only can bedside report save time, it also lets the nurse connect with the patient.”

I loved that personal connection. It allowed me to thank the nurse who was leaving and meet the person who would be with me for the next 12 hours. Plus, I was an active participant in my care plan. Of course, I had to tell the story of the bite each time I met someone new!

Don’t rely on impersonal channels when communicating organizational change. In Change Communication Made Easy, David Pitre writes: “Don’t fall into the trap of sending an email and considering communication complete. When it comes to change communication, the most critical tools encourage dialogue and participation.”

3. Keep it simple
All of the healthcare professionals I met avoided medical jargon. They clearly explained the urgency of my situation—and the risks—in plain, everyday language.

Remember you’re communicating with people who may not have your expertise. In one of her Inc. blogs, Alison Davis suggests you “Start by remembering that you’re a real person communicating with other people.”

I never expected to be inspired about good communication in the hospital. But the lessons were clear!


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