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Building Productive Relationships in the Healthcare Industry

March 29, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Climate and Culture

Building Productive Relationships in the Healthcare Industry

Productive ongoing relationships at all levels are important in any organization, if it wants to be successful, but these are often critical in the healthcare sector, which includes public and private hospitals, field hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, rehabilitation centers and other medical facilities. This is not only because poor relationships and conflict can lead to patient suffering or harm but because these type of organizations are essentially about collaborative care-giving. This is fundamentally undermined when relationships are poor and may consequently have a widespread impact at both individual and team levels.

Although we know that relationships are often demanding, especially in high workload or pressure situations, the fact is that as individuals and organizations we typically take relationships for granted. We assume that somehow other people will “understand”, that they will “get” what we mean, that despite misunderstandings, different backgrounds, differing opinions and experiences, and limited appreciation of each other’s viewpoints, we’ll be able to make things work. The amazing thing is that we often do make our relationships work but not always in the most optimal way. In fact, we often accept quite mediocre or shallow relationships with our work colleagues and then have to live with the often poor consequences because we have invested insufficient time and energy.

Sooner or later, many – if not most – of our working relationships need maintenance. They need skills to make them work effectively. They need some “give and take” – as the saying reminds us, they will cost us something. That “something” is typically a willingness to adapt, to listen to others, to accept different perspectives and approaches. A good way to think about this is in terms of more relationship “enabling” behavior and less “challenging” behavior as show in the grid below.

Enablers (need more of) listening, patience, clear communication, honest/open communication, cooperation, teamwork
Challengers (need less of) personal agendas, ego, over-communication, stress, interpersonal conflict, lack of clarity, ambiguity
Sustainers (create and maintain) openness, assertiveness, effective conflict handling skills, good feedback processes

Perhaps most importantly, good relationships are most helped when a commitment is made to build and maintain a culture that will support good relationships. These are called relationship “sustainers” (shown in the grid on the right) and are fundamentally about creating an open culture in which people can be assertive and are trained or coached in how to manage conflict when it inevitably arises from time to time.

Even where the current culture is difficult, or relationships are severely strained at individual or functional level (nurses and doctors having ongoing conflict issues for example) any healthcare organization can quickly turn the situation around by using this grid intelligently. The key is to start in one area (probably where the problems at at their worst) and use the new behaviors learned to apply more widely as confidence about what works best starts to grow.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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