Want to be more effective, smarter, and better liked? Ask more questions

I recently read a piece called The Surprising Power of Questions in the May–June 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review. It caused me to reflect on how I interact with folks. I’m sure I could do a better job of respecting others by asking more questions. And I’d be smarter for it! The article also brought up a lot of points that I think are beneficial for pharmacists to explore, and I encourage all of you to take a look.

Questions play an important role in how we make plans and assess how we’re doing in day-to-day life. They also affect how we’re perceived and how people feel about us.

Messages that we want to convey to patients may be better received if phrased as questions. And the information we gain can be improved with quality questions. Yet, patients who feel interrogated are unlikely to view us as trusted sources of counsel. There’s a big difference between, “Are you trying to lose weight,” and “What are your health goals?” When patients decline immunizations, it’s helpful to know why. Do they get their flu shot at work or do they fear vaccines are harmful? We must draw out the information rather than confront.

In the absence of access to health records, pharmacists may be unaware of treatment goals for new medicines. Learning these goals can have a profound effect on optimization of medication use. Is the new med treating a side effect that could be eliminated with a dose adjustment of another drug? Is “deprescribing” warranted? Some years ago, my daughter gave me a framed print I keep in our conference room—“First, seek to understand.” We need to make connections with our fellow health care providers to ensure our patients are on track for the best possible outcomes.

So when we talk with other providers, how can we bring the value of the pharmacist into their practice sites? As the HBR article points out, people feel better understood and react more positively when they are asked questions. Conversations with physicians and other prescribers about how they are handling the shift to value-based care and related medication use quality measures can yield significant collaborations. Good questions to ask could include “What chronic diseases are more difficult to manage in your practice?” “How might a pharmacist be able to help?” or “How have hospital readmissions challenged your practice environment?”

Every member of the health care system—from patients, to providers, to policy makers—are searching for answers to problems with cost, outcomes, and administration. Getting into a dialogue framed with the pursuit of understanding is a key to collaborative practice and a great way to establish our place on the health care team.