Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” This common adage sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as it seems—especially when it comes to professional communication. Sometimes what we try to communicate gets lost in translation or is not received in the manner we intended. But the ability to communicate effectively is an essential skill in any leadership position and is often underrated, perhaps especially for the scientific community. This year’s annual AACC Society for Young Clinical Laboratorians (SYCL) workshop, “Clinical Lab Directors in the Spotlight: Essential Communication Skills for the Modern Lab Director,” proved to be yet another incredible learning opportunity for both budding and seasoned laboratorians alike. The session focused on ways that lab directors can effectively communicate their knowledge and expertise to a variety of constituencies.
Bill Malone opened the workshop with tips on how laboratory medicine professionals can train themselves to be more media savvy—whether talking with reporters, or writing themselves. Attendees enjoyed his demonstration of creative tools, including a software program designed to help users learn to write without jargon. Using this software, he provided examples of how a complicated idea, such as an immunoassay, can be explained in simple terms using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in English. This proved to be more difficult than most would imagine! Malone also stressed the importance of scientists truly knowing their message, and how thinking like a journalist can improve both writing and speaking skills.
Nikola Baumann, PhD, followed with powerful insights into how to communicate effectively with laboratory staff and trainees. She emphasized that learning to communicate effectively makes for a more resilient leader, and that although the skills required to be an effective communicator can be taught and learned, they take practice. Baumann described the five habits of highly effective communicators and provided attendees with conversational tools for talking with staff about a variety of topics, including change management and providing feedback.
The final speaker of the session, Shannon Haymond, PhD, explained that laboratory leaders frequently need to affect the actions, decisions, and opinions of others even when they have no authority over them. Authority is needed to gain compliance, but influence is needed to get commitment and endorsement of your cause, she noted. To be most effective, laboratorians must use a variety of styles for influencing others, Haymond said. She provided examples of different personality types and how to successfully gain their commitment and engagement in future projects.
The workshop concluded with a panel discussion on patient access to lab test results and direct-to-consumer testing. The panel, consisting of patient advocates, clinical laboratorians, and practicing physicians, were given a number of vignettes highlighting interactions between laboratorians and patients that may occur as a result of a change to the current lab testing paradigm. Although the members of the panel had differing opinions on most discussion points, they were all in agreement that disease diagnosis is a team sport in which patients, physicians, and laboratorians are all valuable players.